Free Wi-Fi: Safety and Security be Darned!

You probably already know that Starbucks offers Wi-Fi free of charge at their locations. Some exceptions include ‘franchise’ stores like those at airports (which are typically belong to the food service provider that owns the relationship with the port).

There is a ton of free Wi-Fi out there; intentionally, or not. Access is available legitimately, or by “Wi-Fi Roguing” (stealing wireless Internet from unprotected networks) to private networks.

When looking (in advance, of course) use your search of choice; start with “WiFi zip code” in a search box; both Bing and Google will provide you a list.

So now you’ve found some Wi-Fi .. but you should be concerned that non-commercial / non-sponsored Wi-Fi may not be secure.

Free Wi-Fi at Starbucks, Panera Bread or some other gathering place, falls into the ‘sponsored’ category, as does your local coffee shop, community center, etc. I would expect sponsored Wi-Fi to be legitimate; safe from folks who might collect credentials. Since you really don’t know the operator, this is a risk, and your corporate IT may suggest / insist on the use of a Smart Card or secure proxy.

When roguing, you’re totally at risk when you connect to an unknown network; whether owned by random private individual whose condo is in range, or some punk with a laptop putting up a familiar (think: ‘linksys’, ‘netgear’ or “Free Public Wi-Fi”) SSID.

Hell, even commercial SSIDs run the risk of being spoofed. See “Wi-Fi Access Point or Account Credential Honeypot?” for a detailed walk-through of my observations in range of a (most likely legitimate) AT&T public Wi-Fi hotspot.

If in doubt, don’t connect.

Original Post: October 15, 2007

About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

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