From Dec 1, the Tokyo Metro subway lines and Tokyo metropolitan government's Bureau of Transportation began providing free Wi-Fi connections at 143 stations. Similar free connections are already being offered at Tokyo's two international airports, as well as certain fast food outlets and coffee shop chains.
Along with greater access to certain bank ATMs for foreign cardholders, this development is sure to be welcomed by visitors from abroad, not to mention Japanese users. After all, what could possibly be bad about ubiquitous communications that don't hit the user with a big bill?
Well, for one thing, reports Nikkan Gendai (Dec 10), the security of such connections is something less than ironclad. A professor at Kobe University noted on his blog that the Wi-Fi provided at Narita Airport, to name one example, is not encoded, so mails can be intercepted in transit and read by third parties.
Masaya Takahashi of TREND Micro Incorporated, an IT firm specializing in Internet security, tells the tabloid, "It's natural for there to be a risk at cafes and other places where several people are logged on to the same network. Outsiders can find out what sites you are accessing, what sort of searches you've made, and so on. URLs that begin with 'http' are particularly dangerous."
And, adds Takahashi, one should be particularly careful at such times not to enter passwords and other sensitive personal data.
That said, URLS beginning with "https" are encoded. In the case of individual users, Yahoo! mail and Gmail are encoded.
As for others, however, security is no sure thing. For example, take "Café A," where anyone within range can log on just by typing "Acafe1."
Passwords like these to gain access can be changed at random. But if a user is ensnared in a trap, it might route him to a site that can attach a virus to his message. And that would not only enable a PC to be hijacked; passwords for online banking transactions might also be stolen; likewise for photos and other personal data. So when it's all said and done, the smart thing to do is to avoid logging onto any network that you don't fully trust.
It goes without saying, moreover, that people who utilize Wi-Fi in their homes are also at risk. In condos, several networks might always be available. Just go up or down a flight or two of steps, and you can pick up signals from your neighbors. And they can pick up yours.
"There shouldn't be any problem if you have encoded your home Wi-Fi network," says Takahashi, who recommends the WPA type of security. "The older type, called WEP, may have problems," he warns. "So you should change your web settings and make sure they're encoded."
The troubles some users have encountered have been well reported. Completely unbeknown to you, someone may attempt to harness your Wi-Fi network to extort companies or send out death threats that can be traced back to your PC. Caution is definitely warranted.© Japan Today