Using public wi-fi is incredibly convenient, especially on vacation when you figure you're already paying for at least some of it as part of your room bill.
But sometimes even a wi-fi hotspot itself can be a trap, set up by cyber criminals to access your device. If you're not convinced of the risks, a report by the Today show in the US revealed how holiday hackers can steal your personal data using fake hotel wi-fi.
Today recruited a security expert to set up fake wi-fi hotspots at a hotel in Mexico, to reveal just how easy it is for cyber crooks to jump into your phone. With the permission of a hotel called Grand Fiesta Americana, journalist Jeff Rossen and the security pro Jim Stickley piggybacked on the name of the hotel's legitimate wi-fi network, called FiestaRwards, to create a 'scam' network called FiestaRewardsPool.
It was designed to allow holidaymakers to think they were logging on to a secure Fiesta network, using the password they'd been given by the reception. (Many large hotels offer several wi-fi networks, depending on where you are in the building grounds.) Once the tourists logged on to the insecure fake network - designed to accept any password - the security expert had full acces to their personal data and banking information.
A recent study by internet security software company Norton by Symantec showed that Rossen was right to think that travellers would easily be fooled into jumping onto a fake network. The study found that more than half of consumers wouldn’t think twice about exchanging, sharing, or even doing something (such as handing over personal information) in order to get a strong wi-fi signal.
Further, more than 70 per cent of people said that access to a strong Wi-Fi signal was a deciding factor when choosing accommodation. So what can you do to protect yourself while on vacation?
If you must use public wi-fi, stick to encrypted networks, ensure your virus protector is on, and avoid accessing sensitive online accounts such as those with your bank. You can identify an encrypted site by checking the URL for the letters ‘https’ or looking for the lock icon somewhere near your browser window.
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As well as never looking at your bank account on a public wi-fi, it's best to avoid online shopping if possible. If you want to purchase something, hop off the public wi-fi and go on to a 3G or 4G mobile carrier, as it's a lot more secure.
Every hour or two (if you're on public wi-fi), adjust your phone settings to forget the network, then log back in.
And you can always test the wi-fi 'claiming to be your hotel', by entering the wrong password. Why? Well, if it gives you access it's a scam, but if it's legit, you will be denied access.