In a recent article the Guardian reports on a report by the Watchdog on Wi-Fi security stating that “hotspots provided by the UK’s top three Wi-Fi networks – BT Openzone, The Cloud, and T-Mobile – are all vulnerable to attack by hackers, leaving people at risk of fraud”. The top providers are also urging users to use a VPN account to secure their internet connection and prevent interceptions of their private data.
There are two kinds of risks involved in using an unsecured hotspot. The first is that instead of connecting to the legitimate hotspot, you accidently connect to the hacker’s hotspot which is setup to use a similar name as the one you wanted to use. This way they may even steal your credit card info if you planned to pay for the hotspot. So be careful who you connect to and double check the Network name.
The second type of risk is called ‘man in the middle attack’ and is the most common form of traffic interception. The article also mentions that “the Watchdog team was able to access the email accounts of two members of the Watchdog audience, viewing everything the users were doing online, including their email and social networking activities.” This is done by capturing data packets sent over the air in unsecured hotspots. Using a VPN to create a secure tunnel between your pc and a vpn provider will prevent packet sniffing and data theft. I personally always use a VPN at Starbucks when I am working and accessing my online accounts. You should do the same!