You probably are aware of this scam concerning wifi, as it is not new. But for OSX users, I just wanted to post a visual of it. I took this screen-shot on a recent trip while I was at the airport. As you can see, you should be looking for a network to join up where it says TELUS. If you look under ‘Computer-to-Computer Networks’ you will see ‘Free Public WiFi’ and ‘tmobile’. Both of these are scams. They are probably people sitting in the airport with their personal sharing turned on, waiting for someone to connect to the Internet through them. They can then capture packets of data, and look for people logging into services. Many services an average user might connect to are not all that secure (ie: properly encrypted passwords, etc.). They snag this info and then can use it.
Even if you connect to an actual router… such as ‘TELUS’, it could still be a scam. However, it is certainly more complicated to to setup that scam. Also, if you are somewhere such as an airport, there are usually advertisements as to what the name of the service is you should be seeing.
Also, just to be safe, whenever you are in a place using a Internet connection other than your own, be aware of what kind of services and things you sign into. The big problem is that many people check their e-mail, which is not a super-secure thing to do. While you can’t ever make yourself totally safe, you can prevent a lot of problems with just a bit of care.
One way to dramatically increase your security whenever using a public network, is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This will encrypt and ‘tunnel’ the traffic between your computer and the destination, which would mean that snoopers on that wifi network will just see an encrypted stream. One service I use and like is called IP Vanish.