Beware That Free WiFi

We’re sure that you’re all familiar with data caps as members of the RE industry. After all, with cell phones becoming increasingly common (91% of adults have one), usage is at an all time high—which might explain why companies such as AT&T and Verizon put data caps in place, to make more money and to reduce network congestion. And you, as professionals, use apps like Maps and services like Evernote to keep everything up to date with your services. When your data cap is looming large over you, free WiFi might seem like a godsend. Use your services without adding to your data cap—the perfect combination!

But, before you connect to just any network, we have a warning for you: while WiFi from businesses and private providers like Brighthouse or AT&T is everywhere, it’s also dangerous.

Unsecured Networks

Free WiFi feels great, but certain providers of free WiFi prefer to use managed systems rather than password-secured hotspots like businesses use—usually to ensure that the public can connect and increase their awareness. But the problem here is that on an unsecured network like this—even if there’s a login screen for your personal credentials—none of your data is properly encrypted, meaning that anyone can get on the network and, with a little bit of knowledge and work, can get your personal information from what you’re broadcasting over the air.

While some apps and websites do use encrpytion to connect (such as Facebook and most banks), care should be taken because other sites and apps have not adopted the standard. Responsible use of WiFi can and will make your life better but it only takes one irresponsible person to ruin your accounts or your work. Be safe when connecting!

Fake Hotspots

We’ve also been receiving reports of thieves using fake hotspots to lure you into trusting them. They follow the same system as phishing attempts through your email: recreating websites to look official to get you to give up your credentials. It’s worse when you realize that most cell phones (regardless of operating system) are set up to automatically connect to their provider’s hotspots automatically—but they put no controls in place to prevent fakes from replacing them.

Here’s a scenario: let’s say your WiFi is toggled on your iPhone and you’re walking to a showing. If someone in the area has named their WiFi “attwifi,” the normal name for AT&T’s hotspots, you’ll automatically connect whether the hotspot’s legitimate or not. Then the thief can go to work sniffing out your data. If you’re not expecting a free WiFi hotspot, you might not notice and then you’ll be compromised.

Securing Your Data

There are steps you can take to help prevent this problem. For one thing, every modern smartphone has an indicator showing that a website is secured and encrypted (meaning it’s far harder to read what you’re sending). On iPhone, there will be a grey lock next to the name of the site you’re on. This means that the connection is secured and the identity of the site is verified by a third party. On Android, it depends on browser, but the Chrome browser displays a green lock. Look for these symbols when doing any transaction with your data! Without them, you are at risk.

iPhone Safari Secured Website
What a secured website looks like on Safari

 

Mobile Chrome Secured Website
What a secured website looks like on Chrome

Secondly, you should turn off auto-login to any and all WiFi hotspots that they’re currently enabled for. While it’s a bit more work to do, it’s not all that difficult to do. On iPhone, it’s in Settings > WiFi > (Network Name — click the circled “i” symbol) > Auto-Join.

These tips will make your life more secure and protect your contacts, leads, and business from being spied upon—or worse!