I received the following message from my bank:
Be careful when using wireless networks. Some wifi networks are unsecure, meaning that they may allow someone else to access information or files stored on your device. When you're out in a public place, it's best to stick with known sources for your internet connection, such as the Starbucks wifi, and not a random home network that happens to be open. It's always best when you're on the go to turn off your wifi, unless you absolutely need it. It's safer to use up some of your monthly data instead of connecting to a wifi network that could potentially allow hackers access to your device.
This seems like a really bad analysis of the risks of public WiFi to me. I've never heard anyone recommend using Starbucks WiFi for security reasons.
As a security-minded person, my advice to friends who ask has been to never connect to WiFi networks where you don't know the person responsible for it and all the other people who are connected without (1) a well configured firewall and (2) tunneling all traffic through a trusted, encrypted VPN. (Starbucks WiFi would of course fail this test.)
I understand that these might be out of reach for less tech-savvy people, but is it really good to suggest using public WiFi from "known sources"?
Some other thoughts:
- It seems like it would be relatively easy to set up a fake Starbucks access point.
- Attempting to contrast "unsecure wifi networks" (presumably unencrypted?) with "known sources" seems to be missing the whole point of the risks of public WiFi, as well as comparing orthogonal concepts.
- The one thing I agree with is their last recommendation to use cellular data rather than connecting to public WiFi.
- Overall, this seems like a rather self-contradictory recommendation.
Is my analysis of public WiFi completely off base? Does my bank have a good reason for making these recommendations to (presumably lay) users?