The Threat of Free Public WiFi

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Folks, I was at the airport and I popped open my laptop to hop on the net and upon doing so I encountered a seriously sneaky bastard. Do you see anything wrong with the image below?

Free Public WiFi Threat

Well, hopefully you notice the little icon of a laptop beside the network entitled “Free Public WiFi”. This is NOT a free wireless access point, but instead a laptop computer that someone has configured to capture your personal data and rob you blind.

HackerThe way this scam works is that a criminal entices unwitting suspects to connect to the Internet through their computer. Meanwhile, they are running packet sniffing software to read every bit of unencrypted data passing through it. This includes every web page you visit, the e-mails you write, and even the instant messages you send.

Why would someone want to do this? Because if they listen to what you say long enough they are eventually going to capture a password or some personally identifying information that could prove useful to them.

Oh, and if that isn’t bad enough, once your laptop is connected to theirs, you have opened the door for them to scan all of the ports on your machine in the hopes of finding a security loophole. If they do find one, they could install a rootkit or some other malware on your machine, turning it into a mindless zombie under their control from now on.

So, the bottom line here is, don’t be randomly connecting to just any old network you see. You need to ensure that you are actually connecting to a wireless access point (you can even tell Windows to ONLY show WAPs), and that you have a software firewall installed (see my list of Top 50 Favorite Freeware for recommendations).

Edit: Thanks to Kim for pointing out that there were YouTube videos on this topic. I found these two which share a little more info. The first is from Chris Pirillo:

Next is from a local news channel:

Article Written by
John P.

John P. is CEO of Livid Lobster and co-host of Geek Beat TV. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Comments

  1. Theresa says:

    I clicked on the 2nd video and this message appeared:
    This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.

    This is really a great tip. I never knew about the little laptop icon and would assume it was wifi meant especially for laptops..not very tech savvy here. :/
    Theresa

  2. DJ says:

    VD, you evidently know nothing.

    It’s not caused by a windows feature as it appears on windows vista and windows 7.
    It’s just the fact that somebody is setting up their own wireless network and acting as a Man in the middle, without the end user knowing that a man in the middle ever existed.

    simple.

  3. VD says:

    Well, it may be true that some people have maliciously set up “Free Public WiFI” ad-hoc systems, but as Terry said, the majority of them are caused by a WINDOWS “feature” – the user has no idea that this is going on. Google it.

  4. hey john,
    Amazing peice of advice. Seriously there r some people who can do anything just for the heck of it. Actually need to thank u for spreading the word & creating awareness .

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