Beware! Connecting to Free WiFi hotspot internet connection may turn out to be very expensive.

This article talks about various free or public wifi frauds, how its done, what one can do to protect oneself and available legal(Indian) and other remedies to the victim.

Free WiFi internet connection via hotspots is being offered at many places in India like Airports, Railway stations and some governments like Delhi had promised of providing free WiFi hotspots all over New Delhi1. Cyber criminals used this free WiFi hotspots to fraud people and commit many cyber crimes which may include terrorist activities against the state. The threat of unsecured WiFi network first came to light in India in 2008 when banned terror outfit Indian Mujahedeen who allegedly sent emails to media houses moments before the serial bombings in New Delhi and Ahmedabad using unsecured or free WiFi connection2.

How the free WiFi hotspot fraud is carried out :-

  • Cybercriminals connect to the free wifi hotspot and then use that to hack into computers and smartphones connected to the same free hotspot, and copy back the contents of those computers and smartphones which included personal and financially sensitive information like account details, credit/debit cards, aadhaar and PAN numbers etc into their device. Which is then used to commit various cybercrimes.
  • Using a public hotspot without protection makes it easy for attackers to sneak malicious software (malware) into your device. Scammers can inject an infected ad into a seemingly safe website, trick you into filling out a phishing form, or even fool you into installing a fake app that records everything you type via social engineering attack.
  • Through session hijacking, malicious hackers take over the connection between your device and the website or app that you’re using. This gives them the same rights that you have as a legitimate, logged-in user. For example, they could break into an online store and use your stored credit card information.
  • Another method commonly known as “man in the middle” cyber attack, where cybercriminals listen to all the data/traffic flowing from your smartphone or computer to the free wifi router which may include your internet banking user id and password, credit/debit card details etc and then use that information to steal money or conduct cybercrime.
  • One more way is cybercriminals share their personal internet in public places as free WiFi hotspots, and hack into the smartphones and computers of people whoever connects to that.

How you can protect yourself from free WiFi frauds :-

  • Best option is never use free or public WiFi network, as nowadays internet is so cheap its worth the money.
  • If you have to use free WiFi, use VPN (virtual private network) connection to browse internet.
  • Install and good antivirus software and regularly update it.
  • Never do any financial transactions or send sensitive information when connected to the free WiFi.
  • Access websites which have https or a padded lock symbol in the front of website url.
  • Check the free WiFi hotspot you are connecting to is from an authorized source.
  • Do turn your WiFi and Bluetooth off if you’re not using them. 
  • Don’t allow your device to automatically connect to any available WiFi network. Check the network settings to make sure that function is turned off. 

If you are a victim of free WiFi cyber fraud :-

Immediately call 1930 cyber helpline or file a complaint at cybercrime.gov.in. If you have shared Aadhaar during that time, lock your Aadhaar card at uidai.gov.in and block your debit/credit cards and change passwords of your bank accounts. Complain to the authority where you felt this fraud would have happened.

Remedies available to victim legally(India) :-

One can register a criminal case in cyber police station under :

  • section 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), section 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), section 463/464/465 (make a false document or false electronic record , forgery) of Indian Penal Code(IPC).
  • section 43 (Penalty and compensation for damage to computer, computer system, etc), section 66 (punishment for computer related offences), section 66C(which prescribes penalties for identity theft) and section 66D (punishment for fraud by impersonation using computer resources) under the Information Technology Act(IT) Act 2000.
Beware! Connecting to Free WiFi hotspot internet connection may turn out to be very expensive.

Frequently Asked Questions :-

Will I get hacked if I use free WiFi?

If you use free, unencrypted WiFi, you are more likely to get hacked, but it’s not a given that you will definitely get hacked.

What can be stolen when using free WiFi?

Hacker has access to every piece of information you’re sending out on the Internet: emails, credit/debit card information and userid/password you enter.

Can you be tracked while using free WiFi?

Yes possible, if the free wifi router is hacked or to the administrator of free WiFi, unless the user is using a VPN.

References :-

  1. Delhi State Government promises free WiFi
  2. Delhi blast email traced to WiFi hack in Mumbai

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