Oftentimes, things advertised as free are almost never as they seem. Usually, complementary services eventually tighten their grip with subscriptions or upgrades. Other times, ‘free’ could unexpectedly end up biting you in the rear, like when you log into a free WiFi hotspot and run the risk of being duped by a tech trickster who enjoys stealing folk’s sensitive data.
Think it could never happen to you? Well, it’s very possible that it could. Not because you’re stupid, ignorant, or even careless, but because you were tight for time, trusted the network that popped up on your phone, and simply got sucked in by that irresistibly magical word: FREE.
So how could this cyber crime happen exactly? Let’s stick with the coffee shop setting and imagine you’ve just sat down to get your daily caffeine hit. Ah, good times. You reach into your pocket, pull out your phone and you’re like: ‘Man, I need to see if Bob emailed me that report, do some online banking, reply to Sarah’s text, and then see if YouTube can help me drop two sizes in 24 hours.’
You’re in Costa Coffee. So naturally you proceed to scan for their network and find something at the top, legitimate-sounding like ‘FREE Costa 1’ or ‘WiFi Free Costa’. Who cares, anyway? It’s free. So you login, complete your internet-based tasks, and end up watching cats that are terrified of cucumbers. Weird. Who knew, right?
Unknown to you, some good-for-nothing fraudster nearby – maybe sitting just feet away with a laptop – recently set up a fake WiFi hotspot and has been perusing your online activities, silently stealing your sensitive data. In all likelihood you won’t cotton on to the malevolent deed until much later. And even worse still is the fact that this anonymous somebody could have easily set up their fake hotspot using a free app.
This form of fraud isn’t a new phenomenon. Hackers have been preying on unsuspecting free WiFi users for years, hanging out at social, friendly locations like cafes, event venues and particularly travel lounges like those at airports. After all, when you’re travelling and feel like a cocktail of tiredness, boredom and irritability, you’re probably not alert enough to start scouting the room for hackers and wondering whether the free WiFi has a nasty sting in its tail.
Luckily, there is a way to safeguard your public online activities, and that is by employing the robust security of a VPN service. This will encrypt – mask – all of the information travelling in and out of your device, whether a laptop or mobile, to the public WiFi network. In other words, your data will be significantly more secure and shielded from snooping eyes.