Free WiFi Hotspots
Is it safe to connect public Wi-Fi?
Imagine, it’s Saturday morning and a weekly off, but there’s some work to catch up. There is always some tail end work which people tend to complete on their off days. A coffee shop serves the purpose where on such days, one can spend time sipping coffee and munching cookies or a pastry with some good music while working – which provides a relaxed yet productive environment. You open your laptop and bam there is a network which pops in to invite you to connect to the internet. Once you enter the credentials right you are in the network and have access to the internet.
The digital workforce is expanding continuously, this calls for the need of public Wi-Fi and the demand for the same has increased than ever before. May it be a local coffee shop or a co-working space, airport lounge, restraints or perhaps a hotel lobby people ask for Wi-Fi access. It’s not because they can’t afford to carry a dongle, rather it is the need for high-speed internet and data that goes in to carry out some tasks. The Internet has become an integral part of our lives, it’s more like a necessity now. The availability of internet connection fosters the growth of a segment called remote employees. All this is possible, thanks to the growth in technology! The speed offered by this public Wi-Fi is such that years ago it would have made our heads spin…. And it’s pretty cool, isn’t it?
Now public Wi-Fi is almost everywhere and you can access the internet almost everywhere which is free of cost. But anything that comes for free also has some hefty price to it. In the case of public WiFi, it can be posing threats to you and your mobile devices, hacker abuse, etc. Let’s take a deep dive into the article for better understanding.
“Flying high with WiFi in the sky” ― Steven Magee.
“We don’t charge you to walk on our sidewalks. Why would we charge you for broadband?”- Mayor Brad Woodside, Fredericton
STATISTICS – What Numbers have to Say?
- There will be a total of 542 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2021 available worldwide.
- By 2023, Asia Pacific will have the highest share of global public Wi-Fi hotspots at 46 percent
- In India, the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots will increase six times in the next 2 years from 0.3 million in 2019 to 2.1 million in 2021
- A huge number of public Wi-Fi hotspots deployment will act as a catalyst to reach one trillion US dollars digital economy for India –
- Public WiFi will on-board 40 million new people onto the internet and contribute $20 billion to India’s GDP by 2019 – Analysis Mason report commissioned by Google.
- 81 % of respondents from the survey conducted by OWI labs in America turn to public Wi-Fi either on occasion or regularly.
- 64% of hotels now offer free Wi-Fi. – Hotel Chatter.
- More than half of all open Wi-Fi networks are susceptible to abuse. – Purple Wi-Fi.
- Approximately 24.7% of Wi-Fi hotspots in the world do not use any encryption at all. – Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) survey.
- Over 7,000 public Wi-Fi spots in World Cup, 2018 host cities found to be insecure – Mirror UK news.
DESCRIPTION – Let’s take a Deep Dive
What is Public Wi-Fi/Free Wi-Fi/Public WiFi Hotspots?
It can be termed as a physical location or area where people can access the internet with a wireless local – area network (WLAN) and uses a router which is connected to an internet service provider. It was first proposed by Henrik Sjödin in August 1993. The first commercial venture that created a public local area access network was PLANCOM (Public Local Area Network Communications in Richardson, Texas. It was then changed to a “T-Mobile Hotspot” where the word “hotspot” became popular as a reference to a location where a publically accessible wireless local area network is available.
Types of Free WiFi hotspots:
- Open Public Network: All it needs is a WiFi router where a network is created by the WiFi router. One has to move within a stipulated range of network and the personal device which any person is carrying/ using will be automatically connected to the network.
- Closed Public Network: In this type of network hotspot management system is used to access hotspot and it is often associated with “free access”, with a menu, purchase limit or membership. Operators can limit the user’s bandwidth to ensure that everyone gets good quality service.
These WiFi networks are often found at restaurants, coffee shops, airports, train stations, fuel stations, hospitals, hotels, libraries, college or university campus, city parks, campgrounds, and other public places.
Free wifi hotspots near me
How to get free WiFi Anywhere? How to connect to free WiFi?
If you want to use free WiFi or Public WiFi hotspots, all you need to do is to make sure your laptop/mobile device has the right gear. Almost every new laptop or desktop has built-in wireless transmitters and mobile devices are also Wi-Fi enabled.
But if devices are not WiFi-enabled then one can buy a wireless adapter which can be plugged in into the USB port or PC card slot. Once the wireless adapter and the drivers to operate the adapter are installed in the device, it can automatically search for the networks available. I.e. if you turn your device where the public hotspot is available, the device will show a notification about network availability (WiFi hotspots) and will ask you for permission to connect. In the case of some older computers or laptops, it is required to use separate software for detecting and connecting to the WiFi hotspots.
As mentioned above, it is simple to use public with a process to be followed by 2-3 clicks; apps created to find Free WiFi made it easier. These apps provide information like maps of hotspots, is it free or requires login information. Some apps also provide nearby public hotspots with the password.
Some of the apps are Avast Wi-Fi Finder, Wifi Map, Wiffinity, WiFi Finder Free.
Wifi has become a need nowadays and is used everywhere. Its usage can be seen in every sector ranging from education, tourism and government sectors. With the evolving technology, public wifi holds can be used to equip people to use and access the cutting edge technology, but it should not be limited to coffee shops, libraries or hotels. It should be made a part of the basic infrastructure of our cities and should be made available at common hangouts and crowded squares of the city. There are countries who have successfully implemented this concept. Seoul is one of the well-connected cities in the world having a government-backed map of free wifi hotspots. New York City, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Macau, Paris are some other examples. India is also implementing Public Wi-Fi hotspots with the help of these four pillars:
- Government through BBNL BharatNet project.
- RailTel though railway stations
- Ministry of Urban Development through smart cities project
- MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Department) through colleges in the country
In 2019, BBNL and BSNL first started implementation and acquired 88% of the total public WiFi market in India which is then followed by our very own homegrown telecom platform Reliance jio, QuadGen wireless, Railtel with google, Vodafone and others.
“By the middle of next year, we plan to deploy nearly 1 million wifi hotspots. So that our users have another way to use broadband data in colleges, school and public space” – Mukesh Ambani.
Then what is stopping us to implement that? And the big obstacle for this is safety.
Free Wifi is safe?
The clear answer is no if you compare them with the private network or home network. It is hackers’ playground for stealing your personal information, in many ways public wifi can put you at risk. Let’s understand this in detail.
Types of Public Wi-Fi attacks:
- Man in The Middle Attack: Now a day, this is the most prominent hacking attack on public wifi, in which hacker exploits a security flaw in the network to intercept data by positioning himself between Victim and his Wi-Fi connection point. Which means instead of hotspot network victim sends his personal information directly to the hacker. Every piece of information that the victim sends on the internet will be in the control of cyber-criminal. If victim access the bank accounts, personal emails or his organization’s security credentials during that session, the hacker will get all that data and he can use it to transfer funds to his account from victim’s account.
- Evil Twin Attack or WiFi Fisher: It is an open hotspot with the same name and identical to a legitimate network to which victim has connected previously, it is set up to lure people to connect automatically into hacker’s network. Once the victim gets connected to the hacker’s rogue network, hacker intercept the data of the victim and can also inject malware into the victim’s device by using some tools.
One of the popular incidents of an Evil Twin attack took place in 2016. It occurred during the Republican National Convention where 1,200 attendees connected to a network named “I VOTE TRUMP WIFI” and the hackers sat outside the convention centre, where they hacked the data of 1,200 attendees.
- AirCrack-NG: In this type of attack passwords are extracted with a set of tools which is then used for stealing victim’s network data. AirCrack-NG network consists of a set of a suit with different tools that can record all data packets and also decrypt passwords. You can relate this to unlimited master keys used to unlock a door. AirCrack-NG is an old method and it is a slow process.
An advanced version of this is Cowpathy which is faster than AirCrack-NG. Cowpathy can be termed as a common hack to crack into WIFI, the best possible way to protect yourself from a Cowpathy hack is to use a random, complex password that includes symbols and numbers.
How to stay safe on Public WiFi?
There are some primitive measures which can be undertaken to safeguard your device and prevent hacking of data. What are they? The answer to this lies in the following points:
- Prepare your device: before entering into public network follow these necessary steps:
- Turn off the Bluetooth of your device.
- Switch off file sharing on your device.
- Enable firewall on your device.
- Make sure your device has anti-malware software including anti-sniffing protection.
- Turn off WiFi auto-connect settings.
- Beware of WiFi Honeypots:
To protect yourself from evil twin attack do not login into any random WiFi network available in the area you are present at the moment. Take your time and ask some vital questions to the staff or management available at the location of the hotspot which can be an airport, coffee shops, hotel, food court, etc.
What information do you need to find out before login into public wifi?
- What’s the procedure for logging in?
- What’s the exact name of the network?
- Anything else that visitors should know about?
- Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network):
If you are working in the digital realm, VPN software must be installed in your laptop/computer. It works as a tunnel that keeps out prying eyes. VPN alters the virtual location of the device and also encrypt data with the help of technical solutions to protect your device against digital surveillance and hacking.
- Use HTTPS-enabled websites, webmail and applications which are more secure and provides more security by protecting user’s personal information such as login credentials from hackers.
- When you are in a public hotspot network, avoid financial transactions, online banking website access or websites that ask you to enter your personal information such as passwords, credit card number, etc.
- Forget the network after using it so that in future you won’t get automatically connected to the network without your permission the other time, you visit the same place or network. Also, make a practice to log out from all the webs and apps used during the public wifi session as hackers can hijack session cookies afterwards.
Advantages of Free Wifi/Public Wifi:
- Advantages Of Public WiFi for Business:
- Increase in Number of Customers: Venue owners offering free WiFi can attract more number of customers to visit their store. Also, installing public hotspots at stores, hotels, or coffee shops will improve customer loyalty by providing exclusive content platforms highlighting services and products available to the customers e.g. Starbucks. Customers use social media platform while moving around the store. However, with the help of customer’s activity on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) venue owners can strategically promote their brand on social media platforms.
- Increase in Sales: Public WiFi Hotspots is the best strategy to engage customers and it can be also used to ensure that customers spend more time in the store which results in the increased purchase of products and services (e.g. Food, beer, and coffee) provided by the venue owner.
Providing WiFi at the stores help customers to check online product reviews, price comparison and also help them to use digital payment channels like Paytm, GooglePay.
- Marketing and promotions: Implementing free WiFi in premium commercial real estate offers the option to promote their store’s offerings. E.g. Orion mall in Bangalore, Ambience mall in Delhi.
Also, adoption of WiFi hotspots on airport enables them to promote marketing offers by their outlets such as duty free shops, retails, and restaurants.
- Advantages Of Public WiFi for Government :
- A city with public wifi can increase the opportunity of economic development, job creations, cost reduction, innovation and revenue generation.
- It can improve infrastructure services of the city like transportation, environmental optimization and public safety by reducing operational cost. Resources can be well managed with the help of all connected nodes on the WiFi network of the city. It can help to provide real-time analytics, data and insights about the city to public service providers for future planning.
- Traffic Management and smart parking services are other benefits from public hotspots. With the help of public WiFi – traffic signals, street lights, parking slots and cars in the city can connect and communicate with each other over the network and this can be used as an input for traffic prediction system. This will help to achieve a well-managed traffic system in the city.
We are living in a digital era, technologies used in self-driven cars have enabled them to find their location, tracking drive towards the desired destination and this is done with the help of radio waves and sensors installed in it. If free WiFi services are offered in the cities, such vehicles can use the network to access maps and the driving patterns can be stored in the built-in memory of the cars. This can result in a smooth driving experience by making travel easy.
- Digital Transformation initiatives can be supported by WiFi services. e.g. connected digital media screens, WiFi CCTV cameras, WiFi sensors for IoT initiatives for air quality monitoring or smart lighting and connectivity for ‘pop up’ events and markets
- Advantages Of Public WiFi for Citizens:
- Remote workers/Digital nomads: People working from remote locations can make use of public WiFi networks to perform their tasks. Digital nomads make use of such networks sitting in a coffee shop, restaurants, hotel lobby or airport.
- Education Field: Students from the low-income family background cannot afford wifi due to their subscription rates. Many of them end up in poverty and follow what their parents did, but public wifi can be a saviour for them. They can learn skills and take up courses online from remote locations if WiFi is made available everywhere in the country.
- Tourist: Countries that offer free WiFi facilities are boosting the inflow of tourists, this is because such facility eliminates the need to buy an international SIM card, confusing subscription plans. The tourists make use of WiFi networks to search and explore new places.
E.g. if a tourist is lost in a tourist place, the tourist can make use of the WiFi network to find their way out to the right location.
- Citizens can participate in the safety and security of a municipality (to record broken lights and potholes). A channel can be set up for communication with city officials and municipal leaders using WiFi services where people can lodge a complaint using platforms to report mishaps. This will help promote transparency and idle functioning of city municipality.
Disadvantages of public WiFi:
Low security and safety: we have already discussed security issues caused due to use of public wifi but with the proper precautionary actions we can avoid that.
- No Reliability: Public wifi can go down because of the increase in user load or increased traffic over the network.
- Maintenance Issue: It is difficult to handle technical glitches and cost associated with the maintenance of public hotspots are high.
- Low Speed: As it is used by many people simultaneously, loss in bandwidth can cause slow network speed.
- Annoying Advertisements: As soon as you connect to the public wifi, you will be bombarded with lots of ads and promotional content which is very annoying and interrupts smooth surfing or working. These ads are based on pay per click methodology to earn money from ad companies.
- The cost associated with setting up of Public Wifi:
The government needs to invest a large amount of money to set up city wifi to ensure that citizens can access free internet anytime and anywhere. It can also result in increased taxes because while improving infrastructure government can also expect something in return from citizens.
As discussed above, cost of deploying and maintaining public Wi-Fi, Authentication, licensing, security threats, Wi-Fi scams are the measure drawbacks of public Wi-Fi hotspots implementation. However, it can be overcome by encouraging the use of Wi-Fi aggregator hub-based model or other effective business models. Also, scams and security threats can be prevented by using basic intelligence and safety measures. Collaborative efforts should be put up between cities, service providers and municipal constituents which will help to drive productivity and innovation to the community and country at large.
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Author – Snehal Namade