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February 23, 2012

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Beware of free WiFi, experts warn

IT engineers are warning about a downside to accessing free WiFi in cafes and snack stores such as Starbucks and McDonald's - the risk of losing private information to hackers.

Customers should remember to check the official WiFi account and passwords with the staff. The warning from engineers and professional IT companies came after some posts by self-claimed amateur hackers were widely spread online in the past few days.

The authors said that with a Win7-system laptop and WiFi-application software, they could easily build WiFi hot spots and give their networks similar names as the genuine WiFi system provided by the stores to confuse and entrap the customers. The authors said they had succeeded in some trials and lured some users to the WiFi traps.

To lure more customers, increasing numbers of local snack stores are following international brands to provide free WiFi that can be used with smart phones and laptop computers. Many demand that customers log in by designated passwords.

The hackers said that during their tests, they found that when some customers faced pop-up boxes asking them to input user names and passwords to open the free store WiFi, they gave up easily and resorted to connecting through the fabricated WiFi network that was easier to use as it required no information.

The online posts have caused netizens to worry about their privacy because many are now using mobile phones and computers for social networking and online banking.

Some IT managers confirmed what the hackers were saying - that they can entrap cafe customers by the methods described in the posts. They suggested people always check with the store clerks first about WiFi account details before making the connection.

Shanghai Daily contacted several famous cafes and snack brands, and the companies said they had not received any victim complaints. They also said they would consider increasing the number of notices around the stores to keep customers better informed of WiFi details.


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