Key Information on Airport WiFi

by Aeyne Schriber on June 5, 2012 in Wi-Fi

Thanks to the increased availability of WiFi in airport terminals waiting out a flight delay does not appear to be as tedious and time consuming.  By accessing airport WiFi you can make better use of your time while avoiding the unavoidable.

Many airports are catering to the tech savvy traveler by providing WiFi in a variety of different ways.  In fact, the options have become so numerous that it is difficult to decide what the best way is to get connected while staying safe online.  Additionally, not all the options are the same and depend upon the airport where you are catching your flight.

If you are unsure about accessing airport WiFi here are a few pieces of key information that will help to point you in the right direction.

Paid vs. Free WiFi

Some airports will require you to pay for access to WiFi where other terminals will allow you to access WiFi for free.  What is the difference and how does it work?

In an airport terminal that requires you to pay for the use of WiFi the cost can be anywhere from five to ten dollars per day.  If your flight is not delayed and you are not sitting in the airport terminal for a long time, some airport terminals which provide WiFi will offer hourly rates or allow you to pay by the minute for data transfer.

If you have a wireless-enabled device when you turn it on it will automatically detect a number of available providers within the vicinity of the airport terminal.  Typically each provider requires a credit card payment to access the service.  The common providers are AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint however depending upon where you are you may have other options as well.

The other option you can consider is to obtain a mobile hotspot from your cellular phone carrier prior to taking your trip.  This is an add-on in which you pay an additional monthly fee on your regular cell phone bill.  This will ensure you have Internet access not only at the airport terminal but in the hotel where you plan to stay.

In terms of free WiFi, some of the airport terminals offer free access as a courtesy to their customers however; the quality of the connection can vary according to how far away you are from the nearest router and how many people are accessing the connection simultaneously.  This can make the connection intermittent.  Additionally, a few airport terminals will allow you to access WiFi for free for a limited time and then they charge you an hourly rate when you have reached the access limit.

In the United States some of the largest airports which offer free access to the Internet include Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Denver, and Boston.  If you travel outside the US, some of the airport terminals which offer free WiFi include Toronto, Osaka, Hong Kong, and Vienna, to name a few.  If you are unsure about other airports that offer free WiFi you can check the travel guides which often will give you the lowdown on accessing WiFi while you are waiting for your flight.

Airport WiFi Security

Another important thing to consider before you use airport WiFi is security, especially if the airport terminal offers free WiFi access.  It is a known fact that public transportation hubs are a major attraction for hackers.  This is because they know that many public WiFi hotspots are not secured and do not deploy encryption methods or intrusion detection systems.  Many hackers see these areas as a gold mine for phishing for your personal and financial information as you browse the Internet.

One of the ways that hackers exploit WiFi networks in airport terminals is by setting up a false network which appears to look like the real deal.  In this case, hackers set up a false WiFi network which is detected by your wireless-enabled device.  The network contains a name which leads the user to believe it is provided by the airport terminal.  When you access the network it is designed to spy on your activity and track your personal information.  Once your information is collected it is sent back to a remote server where the criminal can harvest it to commit identity theft, access your bank accounts, or sell your information on the black market on the Internet.

To avoid getting scammed it is always wise to think twice when you see the name of the network appear in your list of WiFi options.  Plus, you should research the options for WiFi that the specific airport terminal offers before departing for your trip.   This will help you to identify potential bogus network names before you click.  Additionally, you can turn off your wireless connection when you are not using it.

Your best bet for staying secure while using WiFi in an airport terminal is to use your own mobile WiFi hotspot which deploys WEP or WPA encryption.  It may cost you a little extra on your cell phone bill but you may find that the security is worth the price.  Also, if you happen to have access to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) through the company you work for it is a good idea to use this network instead.  VPNs offer a host of security features since it is important for a company to keep critical data safe.

Why Some Airports Do Not Secure WiFi Networks

In recent years there has been an increased number of WiFi network breaches in airport terminals reported to authorities in the United States and in other countries.  So why don’t airports deploy security measures for their WiFi networks?

The answer is quite simple and boils down to cost.  It costs airlines in excess of $30,000 per year or more to secure and maintain free WiFi networks.  Deploying WEP (Wireless Equivalent Privacy) or WPA (WiFi Protected Access) encryption costs money.  Intrusion detection systems are even more costly and require consistent maintenance and monitoring to ensure the network remains secure.  Airports are already in crisis and they do not want to invest the extra money to secure free WiFi networks. This leaves you pretty much at your own risk when you access free WiFi in an airport terminal.

This is not to say that you should never use free WiFi in an airport terminal but it does imply that you should educate yourself so you have the street smarts to protect yourself when using free airport WiFi.  A great resource for upgrading your skills on free WiFi security is on the FBI website at www.fbi.gov.  The FBI employs agents whose job is to solely police the Internet for criminal activity which means they are knowledgeable about the latest criminal techniques.  The website offers a host of useful advice on staying safe on public WiFi networks including airport WiFi networks.

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