Nothing in this world is free, except a Wi-Fi hotspot run by a hacker.
Earlier this week, Czech security and antivirus firm Avast set out to highlight some of the dangers with accessing open, unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots.
The company, which has a commercial interest in the security space, set up a series of open Wi-Fi network at Barcelona Airport, as hundreds were arriving to attend Mobile World Congress. (We have full coverage here, and from our sister-site CNET.)
The goal? See who would be gullible enough to join an unsecured network for a quick jolt of internet, while forsaking their security and risking being targeted by hackers.
Turns out, more than you'd think.
The researchers created networks with names like were "Airport_Free_Wifi_AENA", "MWC Free WiFi", and even "Starbucks." In just a few hours, more than 2,000 users connected to the honeypot network.
- 50.1 percent had an Apple device, 43.4 percent had an Android device
- 61.7 percent searched information on Google or checked their emails on Gmail
- 14.9 percent visited Yahoo
- 2 percent visited Spotify
- 52.3 percent have the Facebook app installed, 2.4 percent have the Twitter app installed
- 1 percent used dating apps (Tinder or Badoo)
Crucially, the researchers were able to see the identity of the device and user in almost two-thirds of cases. The study's bottom line is that you can't always identify the source of a Wi-Fi network, or verify its integrity.
"Many individuals recognize that surfing over open Wi-Fi isn't secure. However, some of these same people aren't aware that their device might automatically connect to a Wi-Fi network unless they adjust their settings," said Gagan Singh, president of mobile at Avast.