For most travelers, finding a reliable Wi-Fi connection is usually a priority. While a mobile 3G/4G hotspot connection satisfies some, it doesn't compare to the speed of Wi-Fi for laptops or uploading/downloading larger files.
NBC news reports, "More and more hotels are stepping up and offering guests free Wi-Fi, but security experts say some thieves are using the popular service to steal guests' sensitive information, and they're doing it by tricking people into using a fake free Wi-Fi connection.
"A cyber thief creates a dummy Wi-Fi connection using a mobile hot spot, and will give it a generic name to resemble a hotel's actual Wi-Fi connection, such as 'Free Hotel Wi-Fi.' If a guest connects [his or her] laptop to the dummy Wi-Fi, the thief gains access to all of the guest's browsing activity, and will often times use a key-logger program to capture username and password information."
This is called an evil twin: Anyone can set up a router to say "T-Mobile" "AT&T Wireless" or "Wayport." These connections may appear legitimate but are often traps set to ensnare anyone who connects to it.
Wireless users who connect to an evil twin risk having their data scraped by a criminal who captures all of their unencrypted communications going through his wireless router. Each and every wireless data packet is sniffed and captured by a software program that will later piece together all the information in order to steal identities.
Unsecured, unprotected and unencrypted communications over an evil twin on any publicly connected Wi-Fi (such as at a coffee shop, airport or hotel) are vulnerable to sniffers.
On wireless connections that aren't properly secured, your best line of defense is to use virtual private network software that protects your identity by ensuring that all web transactions (shopping, filling out forms, downloads) are secured through HTTPS. Hotspot Shield VPN is free and available for PC, Mac, iPhone and Android.
Just something to think about before you pack up your laptop or tablet for the next industry conference.
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/ Robert Siciliano is CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com. He is a nationally known speaker on the subject of identity theft.