Beware of “Free Wireless” at the airport — it may be a scam!

When you’re at the airport with your laptop, and you’re scanning the available wireless networks, beware of the “Free Wi-Fi” access point — it may be a scam.

Many airports around the world charge for wireless Internet access, so the “Free Wi-Fi” access point can often be a welcoming sign to check your email and save some money. What you may not realize, however, is that this access point may have been setup to lure in unsuspecting users by someone else in the terminal with a laptop. Here’s what happens:

JoE hAcKeR sets up his laptop to act as an access point named “Free Wi-Fi,” that way anyone who connects is actually connecting through his laptop, and he’s configured it to log all data that passes through, including the usernames and passwords you’ve entered in while browsing through his connection. This is called a “computer-to-computer” network, or “ad hoc.” If you’re using Windows, there’s an easy way to tell whether or not the wireless network you’re about to connect through is legit or not: if it says “computer-to-computer network” (like this) stay away. Chances are this is a scam.

So how do you protect yourself? Simple. “Never connect to an ad hoc network unless someone you know has set one up and specifically asks you to connect,” says Computerworld’s guide to protecting yourself from airport wi-fi bandits.

Instead, either pay for the official wireless network, or double check that the airport you’re at even offers free wireless before connecting. Talk to someone at the information desk, or check this list of airports offering free wireless before you leave. Just make sure that the wireless network you want to connect to is an authorized network setup and maintained by the airport, and not some 15 year old punk with a laptop.