John Marrett

Why I Refuse to Use Free Public Wi-Fi

John Marrett warns about using free Wi-Fi in public spaces. It seems we’re all well-aware of the dangers and yet we do it anyway; Marrett shares a solution that ensures his security.


Many years ago, before every coffee shop in the universe offered free Wi-Fi service, we used to have to pay for Wi-Fi. Coffee shop chains would sell cards that offered time on their Wi-Fi network. Along with many others, I would drop into a coffee shop between appointments and light up my laptop or use my cell phone after connecting to their Wi-Fi, cell phone data plans being expensive.

About 6 or 7 years ago, I was at a coffee shop and noticed something strange: there were three Wi-Fi networks available with similar names. After discussing with the staff, I found out that one was the regular paid Wi-Fi, a second one was a special free Wi-Fi service for their frequent clients … and they had absolutely no idea what the third one was!

Research afterwards led me to discover that there were spoofed Wi-Fi hotspots created by hackers who would collect all the data that passed through the Wi-Fi network they created. There were also Wi-Fi sniffers who intercepted Wi-Fi data passing over unsecured networks.

I decided then and there that public Wi-Fi was a danger and I had to find a way to avoid using it.

My solution was to join Ile-Sans-Fil (Wireless Island), a Montreal organization that provided secure routers to coffee shops and restaurants in Montreal. I ended up finding a lot of interesting local coffee shops. However, Ile-Sans-Fil was very present in the downtown area of Montreal, not so much in the more industrial areas where most of my clients were.

So, I upped my data plan from 100 MB per month to a GB, then to 6 GB. As tethering my laptop to my cell phone was slow and difficult to setup, I eventually got a USB key that allowed me to connect my laptop up to the cell phone network directly (much faster performance!) and share my data plan.

I also became even more of a privacy and security evangelist, trying to keep my friends and family aware of the dangers on the internet. And, yes, I still stay far away from free public Wi-Fi networks!




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