Expert Telecommunications & Internet Solutions

Is it safe to connect to a public wireless hotspot?

When connecting to the internet via a public WiFi wireless hotspot you should consider carefully the lack of security that is associated with wireless connections.

The highest security risk is with the free wireless hotspots in pubs and cafes that are valued and used by many of us. Typically these would have no security features and must therefore be used with extreme care.

Apart from the obvious attraction of being free, their lack of security  is ironically a key part of their appeal. The fact that there is no need to obtain and enter a password makes it very easy to set up a connection with minimum fuss.

The downside is that the data that you send over the wireless connection can be accessed by anyone with a relatively simple wireless monitoring device and some form of recording system.

Someone in the corner of the pub, or parked outside, could not only snoop on your emails, but could also easily record your email account details when you login. They can then use your email account later to get username and password details from websites that send these to your email account if you forget them.

Even if the wireless hotspot has some sort of security through the provision of a code that is rarely, if ever, changed then anyone who has that code is connected to the network and can monitor your wireless traffic.

The situation is a bit better with wireless hotspots that require payment or some form of on-line registration via a splash home page. These are inherently more secure than free hotspots because they feature encryption on each wireless channel that makes eavesdropping on your wireless connection more difficult.

However, even with apparently secure public wireless services it is important to be aware that when using a wireless network anything that you transmit or receive over the wireless connection can be monitored and that even the most secure encryption systems can be cracked.

Apart from the risk of eavesdropping there is also the risk that a public wireless connection can be used to hack into your laptop or other mobile device. Most devices have some form of firewall protection to guard against this, but these are usually designed to protect against attack from outside the network.

On some wireless hotspots with minimal security all wireless devices would be effectively on the same network making it that bit easier for someone to hack into your device.

It is possible to minimise this risk by using Windows or Mac OS integrated network security features or by using a third-party internet security package or VPN.

Get in touch with Premitel if you have a specific requirement or if you wish to discuss how your business could make better and more cost-effective use of its existing telecommunications and internet infrastructure and services.