As the saying goes there’s no such thing as a free lunch. This can definitely be applied to free Wi-Fi because there is always a hidden cost to free Wi-Fi and you must be aware of it as it can be expensive.
The more obvious cost is the requirement for you to give up some of your information to access the free Wi-Fi. It’s usually just an email address/ phone number but it can be something beyond that. On its own that’s a reasonable request. The person providing the free service wants to know who’s using it and be sure it’s being used correctly. Sometimes they may want to use the information for marketing purposes. Again that’s fair enough if you’re made aware of that at the time and you agree to it.
The bigger more hidden cost typically lies (but not always) with free Wi-Fi where you are not required to signup / log in. The risk with this is that the connection you are using is not always encrypted. That means it’s easy for someone to spy on what you are doing on your laptop / phone or tablet if they are connected to the same Wi-Fi network as you. Imagine going to a cashpoint on your local high street and shouting out your pin number as you type it in and following that up by leaving a photocopy of your debit card stuck on the cash point! You wouldn’t do it would you? That’s what you’re doing if you do online banking whilst logged in on a “free” unsecured wi-fi network. And it doesn’t take super high end kit to steal the data you send across the airwaves like this. Kit is available on major online marketplaces for as little as £20 to do the job.
So what can you do to stay safe?
1. Enable your firewall
2. Use HTTPS and SSL wherever possible
3. If in any doubt don’t use free unencrypted connections
4. Setup a VPN
5. Turn Wi-Fi off if you’re not using it
6. Turn off sharing
There are more things you can do but these are a good place to start. We will cover these in more depth over the coming weeks / months but you can usually find what you need with a Google search or call our IT support team in Wembley.