Is "Free Public Wifi" legit or a scam?
September 22, 2008 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Is the "Free Public Wifi" I see at the airport legit?

Every airport I pass through has one or two "Free Public Wifi" or something like it on my Wireless Connections when I search. Are these some anonymous internet philanthropist, or somebody looking to rummage through my computer?
posted by atchafalaya to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This should help.
posted by stresstwig at 9:50 AM on September 22, 2008

As the linked article states, they're almost always ad-hoc networks and generally have no connectivity.
posted by GuyZero at 9:52 AM on September 22, 2008

Depends on the airport. At Hato, the curacao airport, there's free wifi offered by airport authorities. At schiphol airport in amsterdam, all wifi is "monetized" - you can only access it by paying a big fee to the local telco who's exploiting it.

If you're worried about it, just make sure you encrypt all your traffic from your laptop, and assume you have to firewall/secure it as if it was exposed to the public internet. Don't just start typing your user name and password at any web page that isn't encrypted.

That would be true for all open wifi networks you encounter where you personally do not control the base stations, of course, not just those at $random_airport.
posted by DreamerFi at 9:52 AM on September 22, 2008

I should note that some airports do have free wifi - I got free WiFi in San Jose and Long Beach just this past weekend but the networks were not called "Free Public WiFi" or anything like that.
posted by GuyZero at 9:54 AM on September 22, 2008

A good rule of thumb -- most free public wifi will have a "Rules" page pop up when you connect to it and open your browser wherein you'll have to agree not to do various bad things while using their service.

If this doesn't happen, you're likely not on an "official" service.
posted by Damn That Television at 9:56 AM on September 22, 2008

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has free wifi operated by the airport. Similar to what someone said upthread though, I'm pretty sure the SSID of the network is not just "Free Public Wifi."
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:04 AM on September 22, 2008

Richmond International (heh) Airport here has free public wifi, which I happily discovered while my flight to New York was delayed for four hours. I forget what the SSID was, but there was a rules page I had to scroll through and click a button on before I could view any other sites.
posted by emelenjr at 10:10 AM on September 22, 2008

BTV - Burlington, VT International Airport has free public wifi - I've connected to it many times and been able to access the 'net.

PHX - Phoenix, AZ (Sky Harbor) International Airport has free public wifi - I've connected to it many times and been able to access the 'net.

In both instances, they did not show up as "Free Public WiFi" in my "Show Available Networks" dialog, but rather were often named something specific to the airport.
posted by xotis at 10:16 AM on September 22, 2008

Grand Forks (North Dakota) International Airport has free WiFi, but like xotis mentioned wrt two other airports, the SSID is related to the name of the airport.
posted by Coffeemate at 11:07 AM on September 22, 2008

I've seen 'Free Public Wifi' nodes all over, like that article states. And, true to form, they're always ad-hoc, and they always go nowhere.

Also, as he points out, my attempts to study whatever the hell the network is doing have gone nowhere. Those 'Free Public Wifi' connections don't look anything like spyware or anything - they don't even connect, and there's never much pinging. Which is nice.

So they seem to be totally pointless features of the landscape. I think his theory in the article above makes sense.
posted by koeselitz at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2008

Las Vegas too
posted by A189Nut at 11:41 AM on September 22, 2008

As others have said, "Free Public WiFi" is like a viral meme. It's not a real wireless access point. Feel free to try connecting, but 99.9% of the time it won't actually connect you to anything.

Now, if you're worried about security while using public wifi (a totally legitimate fear), I suggest you look into VPN software, which can be configured to encrypt and route all your traffic through a server you control.
posted by meta_eli at 11:46 AM on September 22, 2008

Out of sheer lack of creativity and as a kind of funny prank on our wi-fi leaching neighbors, we decided to name our home network "Free Public WiFi." And then we set up the WPA security.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Detroit has one of these, but I've never used it. Loitering outside the NWA Worldclubs lounge works far better.
posted by djgh at 2:32 PM on September 22, 2008

I get this all over the place. There's more detail on it here...
posted by Chairboy at 2:46 PM on September 22, 2008

Thanks everybody. I had no idea it was a 'viral' kludge in Windows. Fascinating story.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:18 PM on September 22, 2008

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