Eluding Free WiFi Threats


Kathryn B., FBI, Cyber Warfare Division


Free Wi-Fi can be an alluring perk for workers on the road. Business travel tends to bring long hours, and anytime there’s downtime to check in with what’s going on in the world or the office or send out that long-overdue email is tempting. And when free public Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) pops up as available on a browser, it’s hard to pass up agreeing to the user terms and connect to the World Wide Web.

Here’s the problem: Hackers and scammers know that travelers are in a hurry and might not be paying much attention to the security of Wi-Fi. And unbeknownst to travelers, they may have unwittingly connected to an unverified rogue network. These networks look, feel and act like a normal connection, but instead, it’s cheaply built and offered by a hacker or thief.

Battery-powered portable wireless routers are easy to create and can be concealed in a backpack then planted anywhere: airports, hotels, fast-food restaurant, lobbies and even parks. Once a traveler connects to this bogus network, “the man in the middle” can now intercept, exploit and potentially share any personal information with anyone, anywhere in the world.

Truth be told, over one terabyte of data is stolen everyday over unsecure public Wi-Fi connections and that information affects over one billion people as more than 370 million accounts are leaked every year.

Hackers and scammers prey on travelers. Travelers are off their own “turf” where they control their daily habits, habits that are calculated and refined for productivity, efficiency and maximum effect.

Travelers are out of their comfort zone and the bad guys know it!

Staying confident, aware and making smart choices will mitigate potential threats and decrease traveler’s information from exposure.

Here are four MUST’s to begin mitigating the risks associated with free Internet access:

Avoid Free and unencrypted Wi-Fi access

If you absolutely must connect, only browse the news. Allow your email to download, but do not open any messages while connected to the provider. Your email commonly stores the information that will provide crooks with the skeleton key to the rest of your email accounts and information.


Ensure your devices’ software, antivirus and firewalls are updated and functioning properly prior to travel. These items are your friends and protect you, so resist navigating around them in order to accomplish a task that can wait until you are in a more secure environment.

Invest in your own personal wireless router and Internet service provider that you can access while traveling

You should use a minimum of WPA2 encryption and a trusted VPN (virtual private network) when getting online on the road. Get a portable, global-ready Wi-Fi hotspot or a data-enabled SIM card that works with local carriers.

Never-conduct online banking or access sensitive data publicly on WIFI

Even if the sites are encrypted with HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) most protect the home page where your credentials are entered, but your detailed information layered within that site can be maliciously captured and viewed.

Preparation of potential financial scenarios and outcomes should be preplanned and communicated with your spouse, colleagues or business associates prior to your travel. This preparation will ensure clean and mutually respected transactions.

Nothing in life is free, including free public Wi-Fi

Here’s the brutal reality: The only time something is truly free is when it has zero value.

In the case of free public Wi-Fi, the value and cost is your information. So, unless you are willing to forfeit that cost along with your reputation and security, you must make a conciseness commitment to address these and other threats associated with travel and informational security.

Your commitment will undoubtedly protect and enhance your image and should be perceived with highest degree of professionalism, accountability as well as mutual respect as you protect yourself and others.

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