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.
Singh said hotspots that connect with passwords are more secure, and some VPN services -- such as Hotspot Shield -- can be used to mask the identity and protect the user's privacy.