Advent tip #20: Free Wi-Fi is handy – but think before you connect!

Free Wi-Fi can be astonishingly handy.

For example, I’ve arrived at an overseas airport with instructions to “call us when you land and we’ll set off to pick you up,” only to find my mobile phone company hadn’t enabled roaming.

Wi-Fi and Skype to the rescue.

I’ve needed a multi-gigabyte security update while on the road, but had only a few hundred megabytes of mobile data left.

Wi-Fi to the rescue.

In fact, you probably have “thank goodness for free Wi-Fi” stories of your own.

But please keep your wits about you if you do decide to connect.

If it’s open Wi-Fi, where you don’t need a password at all, then anyone within a few metres (plus determined hackers who are 100m away or even more) can eavesdrop everything you send and receive.

Even if the network is encrypted, anyone else who knows the password can listen in at the moment you connect, capture what’s called your “login handshake,” and then eavesdrop the rest of your traffic anyway.

Sticking to HTTPS websites will help, because your browsing will be encrypted; and using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is even better, because almost all of your traffic will be encrypted, not just your browsing.

Of course, there’s often a sign-up page before the service provider will let you on the network in the first place, so be mindful of what you’re giving away in return for “free” internet access.

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Images of Christmas tree and Advent calendar courtesy of Shutterstock.