dataroam Blog

With a growing number of people using free public wifi in coffee shops, bars and restaurants a recent BBC documentary, ‘Rip-Off Britain’, has shown how simple it is to establish a fake wifi network and attract innocent users to log on to it. In a trial lasting just a few hours the number of users logging into what they thought was a free wifi service at the coffee shop soared well into double figures. Although this was a planned and carefully monitored trial it proves just how easy it is for cyber criminals to do the same with devastating results. The programme described it as effectively the equivalent of eavesdropping on your private on-line activity.

In a parallel investigation by 5 News channel it was highlighted that hackers can force customers in a bar or restaurant to switch their devices from a free and legitimate Wi-Fi network to a false one. This made it possible for cyber-crooks to access phones, hack email accounts, locate login details and access online bank accounts.

Common-sense and a cautious approach can protect you but follow these simple steps to ensure you don’t get caught out over your cappuccino...

• Ensure a network is genuine: Check the name of the network with a shop worker.
• Check the lock: Secure websites display a green padlock symbol, also known as Https. Make sure this is present when using a site that handles personal data and avoid accessing sensitive documents or pages using public Wi-Fi.
• Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN): Not all sites display the Https lock symbol, but a VPN will act as an intermediary between the device and the internet server.
• Downloading an app? Check permissions: Before installing, make sure apps can't access unnecessary information. For example, a drawing app shouldn't need a contacts list.
• Forget the network: When leaving a public network, don’t just log off, ask the device to forget the network so it doesn’t automatically log on when in range later.

Of course, using Wifi in the UK can be safe and you always have the option of using your mobile network’s 3G or 4G signal to get on-line securely too. However, if you travel outside of the UK then the same threat to personal security applies when using free Wifi. To combat this savvy web users are now able to create their own Wifi hotspots in the UK, or abroad, using a data SIM and a Mifi device from This effectively creates a secure 3G or 4G hotspot via a national network that they can safely log on to.