Avast Mobile Security researchers camped out at the Barcelona Airport, threw up a few fake Wi-Fi hotspots, and waited to see who would connect.
That’s already an interesting premise for an experiment, but this was the weekend when attendees of Mobile World Congress, “the world’s biggest and most influential mobile event” were arriving, making this not only interesting but fun! You would think with such a savvy group that the results would be rather ho-hum, but think again!
Thousands of smartphone users threw caution to the wind and connected to one of Avast’s bogus Wi-Fi hotspots, risking being spied on and hacked by cybercriminals.
How did the Barcelona Airport experiment work?
Avast researchers set up Wi-Fi networks next to the Mobile World Congress registration booth at the Barcelona Airport. The Wi-Fi network names were “Starbucks”, “Airport_Free_Wifi_AENA“ and “MWC Free WiFi” — Wi-Fi names (SSIDs) that are either commonplace or that look like they were set up for the congress visitors.
In just 4 hours, Avast gathered more than 8 million data packets and learned the following about the Mobile World Congress visitors:
- 50.1 percent had an Apple device, 43.4 percent had an Android device, 6.5 percent had an Windows Phone device
- 61.7 percent searched information on Google or checked their emails on Gmail
- 14.9 percent visited Yahoo
- 2 percent visited Spotify
- 52.3 percent have the Facebook app installed, 2.4 percent have the Twitter app installed
- Avast could see the identity of 63.5 percent of the devices and users
“Many individuals recognize that surfing over open Wi-Fi isn’t secure. However, some of these same people aren’t aware that their device might automatically connect to a Wi-Fi network unless they adjust their settings,” said Gagan Singh, president of mobile at Avast.
“With most Mobile World Congress visitors traveling from abroad, it’s not surprising to see that many opt to connect to free Wi-Fi in order to save money, instead of using data roaming services. When taking this route, people should utilize a VPN service that anonymizes their data while connecting to public hotspots to ensure that their connection is secure.”
Protect yourself at home or abroad
Avast SecureLine VPN for Android, available on Google Play, and in the Apple App Store for iOS devices, encrypts connections on unsecured public Wi-Fi and allows users to browse anonymously. The app also lets users choose the server location they would like to connect with, enabling users to access content from their home country that may otherwise be restricted by geo-location.
Pretend you’re a hacker at the Avast booth at MWC16
Visitors to MWC16 can step into a hacker’s shoes and see what data is visible over an unencrypted Wi-Fi network. Visit Avast in Hall 8.1 (App Planet), Booth no. H65.