Rogue wireless networks being discovered at airports

July 25, 2007

Although this phenomenon has been discussed for some time, there are new confirmed reports of rogue wireless networks with official-sounding names appearing at airports enticing users to connect to them with their laptops. Anything sent un-encrypted over these networks by the un-suspecting user can then be easily recorded and scanned for personal information. Even encrypted data could be at risk if the encryption strength is not robust enough.

So far these networks have been detected at airports in Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York's LaGuardia and Chicago's O'Hare. In Chicago, a survey found as many as 20 different networks advertising free wireless at once, according to the Better Business Bureau in Natick.1

Note however that in certain cases, a wireless network with the SSID "Free Public Wifi" may not necessarily be devious. There is a known technical issue with Windows XP in which a laptop starts beaconing the SSID of an ad-hoc network that it had previously connected to, as its own ad-hoc network without the laptop owner's knowledge. In this case, "Free Public Wifi" appears to be frequently encountered SSID. A search for this SSID on WiGLE (Wireless Geographic Logging Engine) confirms this.

1. "Some airports become hot spots for wireless crime", MetroWest Daily News, Jul. 20, 2007