Beware ‘free public wi-fi’

By Anne Collier

Don’t be tempted to use “free public wi-fi” when you or your kids want to go online waiting for a flight or in other public places. I certainly have been. But when I’ve yielded to temptation once or twice, I’ve closed right out of it, put off by the strange new symbol that turned up – different from the usual connected parallel curved lines where my MacBook’s AirPort icon usually is. Turns out my instincts were good. To me, the symbol just looked like my computer was being spied on. NPR helpfully explains that, “when a user selects it, he or she isn’t connecting to a router or hot spot, but rather directly to someone else’s computer in the area.” It’s like logging into a botnet, or really an ad hoc network of nearby computers whose owners did succumb to temptation, but don’t worry: It won’t necessarily turn your computer into a zombie. “Connecting to the ad hoc network isn’t inherently harmful, despite its virus-like spread, [but it can] provide an access point for hackers to come in and check out the user’s files.” So don’t even go there. For more on zombies and family discussion about them, see the second half of this post.

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