The phony hotspots are designed to steal your personal data

Many of Dubai’s shopping malls give visitors access to their free WiFi networks as a convenient way to get online. Whether you’re streaming music to your phone as you shop, or getting some work done on your laptop in a cafe, it’s likely you’ve taken advantage of a similar service.

Dubai Police, however, are urging residents to be mindful of potential fake WiFi hotspots designed to mimic, or “spoof”, the ones commonly found in malls. Set up by cybercriminals, and often given innocuous names, they are a ploy to steal the personal data of unsuspecting mall-goers.

While no specific malls were cited, Lieutenant-Colonel Salem Bin Salmeen, deputy director of Cyber Crimes Department at Dubai Police told Gulf News, “Cyber criminals are setting up WiFi hotspots, often with innocent sounding names, such as ‘Free Public WiFi’, that con users into logging in. They go to malls and make a free WiFi network with the name of the mall or shops so people can connect their devices to the network but then all information will be hacked,”

Bin Saleem recounts a story where the social media accounts of one Dubai resident were hacked while she was travelling abroad and was later contacted by the hackers asking for €1,000 to restore her accounts. Thankfully, Dubai Police ascertained that she had indeed logged into a fake free WiFi network and they liaised with the overseas authorities managing to successfully recover her accounts.

Scary stuff. So how do I spot one of these fake WiFi networks?

Fake WiFi networks can be notoriously tricky to identify as hackers (if they’re any good) can design them to look exactly like the login pages of your typical mall WiFi. However, there are some standard practices that should be adhered to when using public WiFi, whether it’s legit or not:

Avoid accessing sensitive information – checking news sites or blogs shouldn’t cause too much trouble but it’s best to leave the online banking for when you’re back at home.

Avoid public open networks – rather than connecting to an ominous “FREE Mall WiFi” network, aim for smaller, shop-based networks. Take the time, for example, to ask the Costa employee what the password is for their WiFi.

Turn off file sharing – While you might not be able to control who’s on what network, you can put a stop to what happens on your computer. Turning off file sharing options makes it more difficult for hackers to extract files and data from your device.

Turn off WiFi when not in use – this sounds fairly obvious but it’s an easy one to forget. Turning off your WiFi will reduce the risk of your phone or laptop idling on a fake network. Remember, hackers can’t steal what they can’t access.

Keep your antivirus software up to date – this is important not just in places where there is public internet but as a general rule. Keeping your antivirus software current means you are protected against the latest malware and viruses that could potentially infect your devices from a dodgy network.

– For more about Dubai straight to your newsfeed, follow us on Facebook.

Image: Getty