Don’t Connect to a Public Wi-Fi Network Anywhere You Wouldn’t Go Barefoot

Article/Op-Ed in New America
Nov. 3, 2016
Jamie Winterton  writes in about wifi connectivity and your data protection. 
We’ve all done it. Maybe because of work pressures—you need to catch a plane but are also pushing toward a deadline. Maybe out of sheer boredom—your flight is delayed yet another hour and there is really only so much time you can spend at the airport bar before noon. Whatever the reason, we’ve all been there—stuck in the airport, looking at a list of little Wi-Fi signals, some without the lock next to them, wondering … it couldn’t hurt, could it? Just this once?

 Of course, airports aren’t the only place with skeezy Wi-Fi. Coffee shops, parks—bring your device to any public place and see what networks are out there. Your phone is constantly calling out, looking for any Wi-Fi networks it has connected to in the past, and any networks that it might want to connect to in the future. (Your smartphone is definitely in an open relationship with your home network.) Some of these Wi-Fi networks have names you want to trust: OHare Airport Official Wi-Fi, for example. Some definitely scream “stay away”—like GetOffMyLAN. Some are bizarrely complex—Purchase4478_Open3’—and some are thoroughly bland—Netgear00. But what do you really know about any of them?

Public Wi-Fi is a lot like the airport. The airport floor, in fact. If you’re good and nerdy, you probably thought I was going to make an analogy about airplanes, terminals, packets, and ports—nope. I want to talk about the airport floor, the part right after you go through the TSA. Thousands of people stream through here every day. Lots of them don’t have their shoes on. They have varying ideas of what “hygiene” means. In a word: gross.