The Real Price of Free WiFi

Free wifi and what can happen if you're not careful

We all want to be connected to the internet all of the time and because of this the use of free and paid public WIFI has sky rocketed.

Whenever you connect to a public WIFI provider (pretty much anything you connect to outside of your home) you are exposing the personal information you have on the device you are using (phone, laptop, tablet etc.) to people who may wish to defraud you.

Let’s look at just one example of the danger you are in when you use public WIFI:

Whilst on holiday you realise that you haven’t paid your credit card bill and you could be looking at paying a fee if you don’t get it sorted ASAP. Easy, you think. I’ll just log in to my bank account and pay the bill! You know you have WIFI in your hotel room and so you log in, do what you need to do and then relax knowing that you’re not going to be fined by your bank. BUT some geeky kid staying with his parents in the room next door is feeling especially teenagery today and uses the skills he has learnt online to hack into the connection – performing a man-in-the-middle attack – and he has easily been able to collect the username and password you just used to get into your bank, and now HE can get into your bank too! Luckily for you our geek isn’t malicious and so doesn’t try to steal from you, but an organised criminal, who makes a fortune out of hacking public WIFI connections, wouldn’t let you off the hook so easily.

It’s not just what you are doing online that hackers can see, they can also give themselves full access to your device which means that whilst you are obliviously watching funny cat videos on YouTube, your local hacker is taking a stroll through your personal files and is making copies of all the useful information they find which they will then use maliciously.

This could mean taking enough facts about you to enable them to steal your identity, access your accounts, contact your friends, respond to your personal e-mails and much more.

But this isn’t that common right? I mean – surely you need to be an elite computer genius to be able to steal somebody’s details? Wrong. Just take a look at this horrendous project called Firesheep which allows ANYONE to use the FREE software to hack into accounts that people just like you access on public WIFI. I don’t even need to use that system to do it because I understand how WIFI works and so I could set myself up in a coffee shop and spend the day stealing your passwords before selling them on for a nice hefty fee. Of course I would NEVER do that, I think it is absolutely disgusting, but you need to know that a lot of people would and DO carry this out EVERY DAY.

But you don’t want to stop using WIFI. We at StorSafe rely on WIFI to enable us to run our business as we work abroad so often and don’t want to spend a fortune with our mobile internet provider. But we use WIFI safely.

HOW?

Easy. We use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

This is technology that will encrypt your connection when you use WIFI so that anybody watching won’t be able to see what you are doing (well, it will make it a lot more difficult anyway). All of the data will be protected from prying eyes enabling you to do what you need to do without worrying about your information being snooped on.

For example, I am currently surfing the web from my hotel room using its free WIFI. The hotel is probably collecting data on what people are using its WIFI for which is common practice – they don’t want to facilitate criminal activity.

But when they look at me, all they can see it that I’m online. They have no idea what I’m doing.

A VPN also lets you pretend that you are in a different location than the one you are actually in. For example, we are currently in the Caribbean but we are connected to a VPN that thinks we are in the United Kingdom. This is helpful for lots of reasons, but my favourite are:

  1. If I try to log into an e-mail account like Gmail from the Caribbean, it is automatically suspicious of me. It knows I am from the UK and like my bank when I forget to tell it I’m travelling, is concerned that someone is trying to break into my account. Because of this it asks me lots of additional security questions so that I can prove that I really am me. The issue is, I set my Gmail account up in 2002. I have no idea what my favourite colour was then or my “memorable word” (what even is that!?). I really could do without jumping through hoops just to check my mail and I don’t want to risk being locked out if I get the questions wrong. If I use my VPN, however, it doesn’t even give me a second glance because it thinks I’m still in the UK
  2. If I don’t use my VPN, I get lots of adverts and messages coming up in Spanish because that’s the language spoken here. I can’t figure out how to get rid of them because I don’t know what they say because I don’t speak Spanish! If I use my VPN, everything is shown to me in English because my computer thinks I’m in the UK.
  3. Here’s a fun one. I want to access Netflix USA because they are getting the new series of Orange Is The New Black first and man I love that show. All I need to do is click “USA” and hey presto, I can connect to Netflix USA (but this is technically not allowed according to Netflix and we don’t condone it…).

These are all great reasons to use a VPN especially if like us you travel a lot and can’t afford to have your business interrupted, but the best reason is that with a VPN your connection is safe and that is priceless.

We spent a lot of time looking for a VPN provider that we trusted and we finally settled on Tunnel Bear.  We like it because;

  • It came recommended by people that we know online and work abroad like we do
  • It offers excellent value for money
  • It’s simple to set up
  • It’s easy to use
  • You can have up to 3 devices per account (we each secure our laptop, phone and tablet)
  • It works on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android
  • We love the cute bear!

There are an infinite number of providers out there but not all are created equal and so do your research before you commit, but commit soon. One day we’ll look back and be amazed that we ever accessed WIFI without a VPN and that day is coming quickly.

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