Smartphones and Free Wi-Fi, What to Do?

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In our day and age, the notion of boredom was practically eviscerated via digital entertainment, multimedia and wireless Internet.

The rise of the smart-phone, tablet and ultra-compact notebook put an end to boredom for ever.

Some may say that we’re over-entertained, there are countless articles written about this issue, i.e. that we’re constantly bombarded with a huge flux of information, minute after minute, hour after hour, and we’ve developed an almost manic reflex to check constantly the latest updates, news feeds, tweets, emails and what not.

Hell, I can’t even go to the bathroom without taking my smartphone with me, because Drudge Report and similar stuff.

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Does it sound familiar? Now, let’s consider this plausible scenario: you’re stuck in an airport and you’ve just decided to watch a Netflix movie, or to start a Skype session with your friend of family member or whatever.

You turn on your Wi-Fi on your smart device, and what do you know! There’s free wi-fi available, a public Wi-FI network in range, with strong and juicy signal strength.


What do you do?

Well, if you’re a Shakespeare buff, the next issue will pop into your mind: to connect to free wi-fi or not to connect? That’s the question.

Others, with a more paranoid background, would hear a whisper in the back of their mind: Do you feel lucky punk? Is this a a legit wi-fi spot or a spoofed one? So, do you feel lucky? Do you, punk?

The average Joe or Joelle, I mean 11 in 10 regular Americans would connect to a free Wi-Fi spot in just two shakes of a lamb’s tale, in an obsessive-compulsive trigger-like action, no questions asked.

Because, you know, mobile Internet is a pretty expensive option, while free Wi-Fi is usually faster and, well..free. I think it was Kevin Mitnick (or was it Mark Twain?) who said: sometimes, the best things in life are free, but there’s nothing free in this life, not even a free meal.

I think I’m ranting, but the main point is this: should you go for public Wi-Fi, when you’re in a public place, like an airport, waiting for that connect flight, or not?

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Well, the answer is definitely maybe.

Public Wi-Fi networks are a fact of life nowadays, but few people realize that a major hazard comes into play when you’re using them.

Basically, all the information transferred between your device and the Wi-Fi spot (that’s another computer to put it simply) is up for grabs for everybody on the network, provided that “everybody” has hacker skills.

You’re starting to get the picture? Your private communications when using a free Wi-Fi spot may be intercepted and your personal/private data stolen.

Personal data like your bank account details, passwords, your credit card, your digital identity, you know what I’m talking about, right?

And, on top of that, if your laptop/smartphone or whatever you’re using is not protected by an effective and up-to-date anti-virus or anti-malware software, you’ll risk far worse than just having your Facebook account hacked: your computer/smart-phone could be infected and you’ll become a benevolent malware distributor, without your choice or consent.

Maybe the worst part is that you’ll probably never know you were hacked, that’s the signature of a good hacker: the victim is clueless and stays clueless about what happened.

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The risks of using free Wi-Fi networks are aggravated by the fact that many people configure their smart-devices to automatically connect to ad-hoc wireless networks.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? Should you use public Wi-Fi in airports or not?

The answer will be provided right after the break, stick around folks.

The number one issue with public Wi-Fi is that people are happy to connect to totally unknown networks. The general rule of thumb is that if you don’t know who’s running that public Wi-Fi hot spot, you probably should skip using it.

Also, don’t allow your devices to connect automatically to any Wi-Fi spot available, because black-hat hackers (criminals as we used to call them back in the day) will always try to set up their fake Wi-Fi hot-spots in busy areas, like airports, for stealing your data.

Always ask an airport employee for the Wi-Fi connection details, in order to make sure you’re using the legit one.

Play it safe, ok? Not paranoid, just safe, don’t just assume that any Wi-Fi hot spot is legit, question everything, trust no-one, the truth is out there and the whole nine yards (yes, BIG X-file fan here).

Now, provided you’re kosher with the aforementioned info, get a load of this: ALWAY use some form of protection when surfing the internet, either on a hard connection or a wireless one.

By protection, I refer to anti-virus/anti malware software installed on your device, together with using a VPN, the Durex of our modern day and age.

I guess everybody knows about names like Norton, McAffee, Kaspersky etc, all big companies offer mobile-security anti-virus/anti malware suites.

But VPNs, what are VPNs?

VPN stands for virtual private network and it encrypts all the information transferred from your browser over the network, being a strong tool for conducting secure transactions over the interwebz.

Encrypted data is like kryptonite for cyber-criminals that may be lurking out there for intercepting your precious info.

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There are quite a few free VPN solutions for your browser, and, of course, a lot of not-so-free ones, which require a monthly/yearly subscription.

But, as long as they work, you can choose either a free or a premium one, some of them (like ZenMate) being simple add-ons for your Internet browser, readily available for Firefox or Chrome, and easy to install in just a few clicks.

Besides treating all Wi-Fi networks with reasonable suspicion, avoid surfing specific website types when cruising the internet in public/insecure spaces.

For example, it would not be a great idea to login into your bank account from an airport, or go in a shopping spree on Ebay or Amazon, okay? Basically, when in an airport using public Wi-Fi, try to avoid any login on a website that’s storing your credit card info or other sensitive type of stuff (including pictures of your cat taking a shower, if you catch my drift).

If you’re not cautious and fail to protect yourself, hackers will have a field day at your expense, since most people are unaware of the risks of using public Wi-Fi networks.

Casual web browsing and watching movies is ok when on “public access”, but logging in your on-line bank account or exchanging sensitive info over email is a no-no procedure!

If you really have to do it, use a trusted VPN service and try as much as possible to go over secured connections (SSL and the like).

Be aware at all times that any device could be at risk and consider using your cellphone (the data connection) if you need to access sensitive websites (including social networking, ok?) instead of public Wi-Fi hot spots.

Also, make sure that your laptop/tablet or smart-phone is protected at all times by a decent security solution, updated regularly.

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