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The potential risks of free Wi-Fi

20 Comments

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

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


20 Comments
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I guess tourists need to weigh up the remote potential risk against the criminal charges some hotels ask visitors to pay to use their internet connections. Hotels have just replaced the price gouging they used to impose for using a telephone in your room to more of the same for internet use.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

SimondB, I haven't found any hotel in Japan that charges for internet yet. They've always been free, and I've stayed in a couple with free PC in the room, too.

I never use public wifi. It's just not very safe. I always just connect via tethering to my phone.

For visitors from overseas, you can get a mobile data-only SIM for cheap from a lot of places, including Amazon and at the airport. Much safer than public wifi.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Is there a reason why public free wifi is not WPA encrypted? 99% of smartphones and laptops can deal with it and if not - one weak individual shouldn't put the whole community at risk. Herd immunity first.

Just post the SSID and password on the posters. Done.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@pandabelle - many of the so-called 5-star hotels charge you for internet usage, typically 1,500+ Yen/ day, even if you are a staying guest. Hilton, Mandarin Oriental, Hyatt are amongst those, at least they were doing it earlier in the year. It's the cheaper business hotels who provide it free...

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Connect over a VPN, then you should be OK.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Bad translation, use of the word encoded should be encrypted

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I've been using open and public networks for years in a variety of countries with zero security problems. Obviously, I don't do my internet banking or stock transactions on these networks.

This article seems like another Japanese narrative that anything that doesn't cost a lot of money is inherently dangerous.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

You can stay safe while using free Wi-Fi by using the Virtual Private Network. It offers the greatest level of protection. It's also the most reliable solution to keep private information private. It encrypts all the data going in and out of your device. You will become completely invisible to hackers on any network and anywhere in the world. But you have to always pay close attention to changes in your information and be careful and encrypt your data.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Have stayed in hotels near Narita where they charged ¥1,000 a day. Granted that was about 5 years ago.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Novenachama: Depends on the VPN's encryption, you can't just say VPN is safe because there are several ciphers VPN companies use that are totally not safe.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've been using open and public networks for years in a variety of countries with zero security problems.

You've been lucky, that doesn't equate to the networks being secure.

This article seems like another Japanese narrative that anything that doesn't cost a lot of money is inherently dangerous.

I'm not sure where you get that - this knowledge of Wifi networks is common knowledge world wide - there is nothing Japan specific to it at all. On the contrary, the worry is that Japan, often not being so good with security, will put together an insecure network, instead of something that would protect users (WPA).

You can stay safe while using free Wi-Fi by using the Virtual Private Network. It offers the greatest level of protection. It's also the most reliable solution to keep private information private. It encrypts all the data going in and out of your device.

It only encrypts it between your device and the VPN server, not the final destination. So your data can still be intercepted on the VPN server. Make sure you trust whoever is managing that VPN. A VPN isn't a total guarantee of safety, it's just one step towards better protection.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Great, another excuse to introduce value eroding, time consuming, blood pressure raising complexity.

What is it with Japan's masochistic obsession with jumping through hoops?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

What makes you think this is a Japanese only issue?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This article seems like another Japanese narrative that anything that doesn't cost a lot of money is inherently dangerous.

This article doesn't say one single thing that hasn't already been said many times before about free wifi, and continues to be said.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-trouble-with-wi-fi/

http://www.howtogeek.com/178696/why-using-a-public-wi-fi-network-can-be-dangerous-even-when-accessing-encrypted-websites/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/08/travel/how-not-to-pay-the-price-for-free-wi-fi.html?_r=0

It also covers the question of wifi security in the home, and that is no more or less expensive a wired connection.

But if wifi usage is increasing here, or a large part of the metropolitan transport network suddenly makes it available without charge? Then yes, you might expect some media coverage, including the risks.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Pandabelle is 100% correct.

Most Hotel provided free Wi-Fi and internet access why taking unnecessary risk using free public Wi-Fi. Common sense prevails.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

True, there are some security issues and users would have to be careful in how they use any Public Wi-Fi hot spots. However, the rewards more than outweigh the risks. It's always nice for a salaryman to be able to do some work while en-route to work (Though I recommend using a VPN connection for more secure access). School kids also can study while going to school. And there's always someone who's going to purchase stuff online.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In a secret law country why to be concerned?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Encryption normally helps protect your network traffic from prying eyes. For example, even if your neighbor at home is within range of your Wi-Fi network, they can’t see the web pages you’re viewing. This wireless traffic is encrypted between your laptop, tablet, or smartphone and your wireless router. It’s encrypted with your Wi-Fi passphrase.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

it's really dangerous to make any financial operations though free wifi

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Internet security should be in the front of everyone's mind. Internet is not a safe place. When I use public Wifi I prefer to stay anonymous. That's why I often use a VPN to protect the information and identity. Usually it's PIA + I check my ip on https://2ip.io service to be confident on 100%. PS it's free.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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