If you ever leave the house and are older than six, you should know by now that it is not safe to use free, public wifi. Somewhere along the way, someone you respect has told you that those setups are just internet honeypots waiting for the unsuspecting public to fall for the allure of something free, and give up sensitive information.
Well, those people who warned you were not wrong. But according to a security researcher via Wired, that advice is now out of date.
“A lot of the former risks, the reasons we used to warn people, those things are gone now,” says Chet Wisniewski, principle researcher at security firm Sophos. “It used to be because almost nothing on the internet was encrypted. You could sit there and sniff everything. Or someone could set up a rogue access point and pretend to be Hilton, and then you would connect to them instead of the hotel.”
Some of the caveats are still pretty big. Even if 84 percent of all airport and hotel wifi is encrypted, that still leaves 16% you have to worry about. Do you know where that 16 percent happens to be? Yes, you can just look for the symbols when you get ready to log on. But often in those situations, you are hurried and harried and vulnerable.
Another consideration is that while airports and hotels are doing a better job, it still doesn’t make it safe to surf other public wifi locations such as what you find in parks and restaurants. Free wifi is still a lot more vulnerable than wifi you pay for. There is also the matter of getting in the habit of doing the safe thing every time. Even if logging on was safe nine out of ten times, there is still that tenth time. Better to do the safer thing every time.
You very likely have some safe wifi alternatives while you are out and about that you are not taking advantage of. If you have broadband at home with a major provider such as Xfinity or AT&T, you likely have free access to all of their hotspots as well. Those types of connections are going to be okay to use wherever you happen to be.
If you are a business professional, politician, spy, or just paranoid, you can get a VPN service that is relatively inexpensive or even free. Not all VPN services are created equally. So be sure to read the reviews before diving in.
That said, the situation is a lot better than it used to be. Think of it this way: The beach you like so much has 84 percent fewer sharks to worry about. Also, this article was produced and filed over public wifi at a library.