Public Wifi – Free, but at what price personal security?

by 0044 GURU in News, Security, Uncategorized, WiFi

With an ever growing number of users accessing free public wifi in coffee shops, bars and restaurants a BBC investigation has shown how easy it is to establish a bogus wifi network and attract unsuspecting users to use it. In a trial lasting just a few hours the number of users logging into what they thought was a free service at the coffee shop reached well into double figures. Although this was a monitored test it proved just how easy it is for criminals to do the same with devastating results – effectively the process is the equivalent of eavesdropping on your personal on-line activity.

In a parallel investigation by 5 News channel it was highlighted that hackers can force customers in a bar or restaurant to switch their devices from a free and legitimate Wi-Fi network to a false one. This made it possible for cyber-crooks to access phones, hack email accounts, locate login details and access online bank accounts.

Common-sense and a cautious approach can protect you but follow these simple steps to ensure you don’t get caught out over your cappuccino.


  • Ensure a network is genuine: Check the name of the network with a shop worker.
  • Check the lock: Secure websites display a green padlock symbol, also known as Https. Make sure this is present when using a site that handles personal data and avoid accessing sensitive documents or pages using public Wi-Fi.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN): Not all sites display the Https lock symbol, but a VPN will act as an intermediary between the device and the internet server.
  • Downloading an app? Check permissions: Before installing, make sure apps can’t access unnecessary information. For example, a drawing app shouldn’t need a contacts list.
  • Forget the network: When leaving a public network, don’t just log off, ask the device to forget the network so it doesn’t automatically log on when in range later.

A recent Cabinet Office report revealed more than half of people in the UK have fallen victim to cybercriminals. According to follow-up research by HMA, nearly two thirds (59 per cent) of people regularly use unsecure, or ‘open’ Wi-Fi hotspots with one in five (20 per cent) doing so weekly or more. Among those who use these unsecured networks, 19 per cent log on to online banking and 31 per cent send emails and personal documents.

Using Wifi in the UK can be safe and you always have the option of using your mobile network’s 3G or 4G signal to get on-line securely as well. However, travel abroad and the same threat to your personal security applies when using free Wifi. To tackle this savvy web users can now create their own Wifi hotspots using a global data SIM and a Mifi device from effectively creating a secure 3G or 4G hotspot via a national network that they can log-on to safely.