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Friday, December 10, 2010

Travellers be warned about Internet caf'e - you might get Zombied!

Zombie networks

Most all techo travellers will want to take advantage of WiFi networks, to browse the Internet. Some of the WIFI-Free venues are associated with coffee shops and food outlets such as Starbucks or McDonalds, or sometimes airports or libraries.

So if you saw a WiFi network called "Free Public WiFi" when you were travelling, wouldn't you be tempted to connect and give it a try?
Warning sign.Image via Wikipedia
Warning, warning  will Robinson - Warning Warning!

Don't. Despite its obvious enticing name, and it being available in many thousands of locations, it doesn't provide Internet access and may compromise your laptop's security.

It's due to a bug in Windows XP (fixed in SP3, but many users will not have installed that upgrade). When a non-upgraded computer can't find any of its "favourite" networks, it automatically creates an "ad-hoc" network (meaning one not connected to the Internet, just ready to connect to any other computer) with the same name as the last network it connected to.

Most of us can't resist lure of something free, so we connect (and the next time they turn on their laptop, it becomes the originator of the "Free Public WiFi").

A look at the laptop and application used to c...Image via WikipediaSo we unwittingly become spreaders of the zombie network. There are others, going by names such as "linksys", "hpsetup", "default" or "tmobile".

Whilst connecting to zombie networks isn't harmful by itself, it won't get you connected to the Internet. Worse, it is an ideal way for hackers to gain access to almost anything on your laptop. Some things are too good to be free...
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