Naked on the Bus

September 5, 2018  |  Carole Clark Isakson

The less catchy title of this blog is “DON’T USE OPEN PUBLIC WIFI!!!” Doing so may expose you, quite literally, to the world.
I am the mother of a teenager– a really smart teenager who is proficient at Snapchat®, Instagram®, WhatsApp® and a host of other applications (Facebook® of course has been left for we older folks). I vainly tried to explain the dangers of open wi-fi to this smart person a few days ago, to be met with an eye roll and a “c’mon mom, it’s no big deal. Free wi-fi is everywhere if it weren’t safe I would know”.

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Well, dear reader and dear daughter, it is indeed true that open wi-fi (i.e. wifi that you don’t need a password to access) is EVERYWHERE, and this is likely why the many warnings of danger have been so ignored. We love our free wi-fi, and the free public wi-fi has been a magnet for business for every café and coffee shop around.
But the dangers ARE real. And if your phone is set (as many are) to automatically connect to available wi-fi, you are literally walking naked down the aisle of a big bus, in full view of every person you pass. Now that I have your attention, let’s talk specifics.
Open wi-fi has many risks including:
1. Man-in-the-Middle attacks. This is exactly what it sounds like – someone intercepting your data as you send it from your device over the open wi-fi. As tech gets better and better, this is a really easy way for third parties to access everything you are doing.
2. Fake open wi-fi. It is a relatively easy thing to create a hotspot and name it as you wish. So, when you are sitting at the Blue Spot Café and your device shows a free “Blue Spot Guest” available wi-fi connection, the only way to know if that is indeed the name of the café’s wi-fi is to go ask. And few do.
Best advice? DON’T USE OPEN PUBLIC WI-FI. Many hotels with public wi-fi have secure wi-fi as well, make it a point to ask. With so many phone plans with unlimited data, you may not even really need the wi-fi anymore, turn that automatic search for wi-fi OFF. And if you must use the public wi-fi, then use a virtual private network (VPN) (some employers offer this, if not it is easy to purchase and use). Don’t leave yourself logged in to any accounts, and don’t visit sites unless they are using HTTPS.
Experts estimate that last year over 16.7 MILLION people were victims of identity fraud. Don’t make yourself an easy addition to the 2018 victim numbers by using public wi-fi.