Online Security: Free Wi-Fi Isn't Really Free

Ralph DeFrangesco

Google has announced that it will begin to offer free Wi-Fi to travelers in 47 airports across the country. Google has partnered with Time Warner, Boingo Wireless, Advanced Wireless Group, and others to deliver wireless service. Wi-Fi will be offered free for a time at the following airports: Boston's Logan, Houston's George Bush, Las Vegas' McCarran, and Seattle's Sea Tac, to name a few. Last week, Yahoo announced that it would be offering free Wi-Fi for the entire year in New York's Times Square.


Although Google and Yahoo may be offering free Wi-Fi, in so many words, it's really not free. Consider this: Your team is traveling out of state. They get tied up at an airport and fire off their laptops to send e-mail. Remember, it's a public network, so anything they send could be captured, including passwords, client lists, and other intellectual property IP. In addition, they are vulnerable to attacks and malware. You have to ask yourself, what then are the costs to your organization if any of this information is stolen? What if they pick up malware for which your antivirus does not have a definition? What if it spreads to other computers in your organization? What will be the remediation costs?


I'm not sure what the market for Wi-Fi at an airport is. I do know that earlier this year, IT Business Edge's Carl Weinschenk wrote about the many attempts for municipalities to offer Wi-Fi that just never took off. Now, maybe there will be a market since traveling business professionals might need a high-speed connection while they are waiting for their flight. Personally, I don't have a need. I have always used my time at the airport to buy expensive food, doze off on those really uncomfortable seats, or buy my kids junk at souvenir shops.

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Nov 18, 2009 2:36 AM Tom Crane Tom Crane  says:

How are the risks any greater for FREE than they are for paying $8.95 for an hour?

Nov 18, 2009 3:33 AM Ralph DeFrangesco Ralph DeFrangesco  says: in response to Tom Crane


In reality, the risk are not any less. I think that many users feel though that when you pay for something that there is an expected level of security. However, we both know that this is not always true.


Nov 18, 2009 3:56 AM Steve Steve  says:

Are the major carriers' networks (Sprint, AT&T, etc.) any more secure, in your opinion/experience?  Thank you.

Nov 18, 2009 4:49 AM Michael J. Fuhrman Michael J. Fuhrman  says:

If your work place can be infected by a malware virus that isn't recognized by the top vendors: TrendMicro, Norton, McAfee, AVG, ... then someone at those companies isn't doing their job right.  Obviously they should be sending people or asking companies to troll these free hot spots to collect such viruses.  But that's my humble opinion as a Network Administrator.

Nov 18, 2009 11:16 AM Ralph DeFrangesco Ralph DeFrangesco  says: in response to Steve


In my opinion yes. I think the larger carriers have the resources to monitor their networks. In contrast, the "hot spots" at public places (i.e. coffee houses, hotels) are a major concern since they really don't care. Providing connectivity is not their core service, it's just something extra they do for their customers.


Nov 18, 2009 11:22 AM Ralph DeFrangesco Ralph DeFrangesco  says: in response to Michael J. Fuhrman


I know if I was going to look for new malware, etc I would include public hot spots as one place to look. They can work anonymously and never appear on the radar.

Thank you for your thoughts,


Nov 19, 2009 3:42 AM Ralph DeFrangesco Ralph DeFrangesco  says: in response to Wayne Zhou


You bring up a great the hardware at these hot spots setup properly? How do we know what they have turned on or turned off? What protocols are they running? Frankly, I just would not want my employees connecting to them with company issued equipment.


Nov 19, 2009 9:49 AM Wayne Zhou Wayne Zhou  says:

I believe the WiFi tech is secure enough if you have the right Access Points (APs) and right setting. If you use WPA between AP and user's computer, setup AP to isolate each user's computer, the risk will be smaller than online itself.


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