‘Guest’ Wi-Fi We Use in Shops Might Not Be Safe If They Use the Same Router


Going to a café? The first thing you’d look for is its free Wi-Fi instead of its menu.

Dining at a restaurant? Why post your food images on Instagram with your precious data when there’s free Wi-Fi?

If you’re poor like me who don’t have an unlimited data plan, you’ll always be on the lookout for free Wi-Fi everywhere you go.

That is understandable, and we know that it’s safe as long as the websites we go to have https instead of http, as people using the same network might be able to see the stuff you’ve keyed in when you’re on an http website.

(Fun fact: Apps are always safe as long as they’re downloaded from Google Play Store or Apple App Store, as the respective stores do comprehensive security checks on those apps)

And most of the times, the premises would name the network “Guest” or simply a separate name, with their staff using another network.

However, they usually don’t have two routes; instead, they set their router to have two different networks.

Everything’s going through the same router and ISP, and it should be safe, right?

Well, no.

Early this month, security researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel found out that the “Guest” network isn’t as safe as it seems to be.

Video That Showed How Unsafe It Is

Here, take a look at this video:

On second thought, maybe not: it’s too chim to understand what’s going on. If you’re a tech expert, you’ll see that the data transfer between the two networks are different although they use the same router and ISP.

Basically, the “Guest” network can be exploited to steal data or to plant a malicious bug.

According to the researchers, “All of the routers we surveyed regardless of brand or price point were vulnerable to at least some cross-network communication once we used specially crafted network packets. A hardware-based solution seems to be the safest approach to guaranteeing isolation between secure and non-secure network devices.”

Image: orenlab.sise.bgu.ac.il

Technically speaking, that can be resolved when the firmware of the router is always updated, but some pervasive ones are impossible to prevent.

And the solution as suggested by the researchers? Get a separate router for the guest network.

But how about us, the consumers who just want free Wi-Fi? We can’t look around a café just to confirm that they have two routers, right?

Fret not. Goody Feed is here to help (or so I think).

Of course, the first solution is to avoid using free Wi-Fi. I can’t live with that, so let’s look at the second option: download reputable anti-virus apps.

Chances are you’ve downloaded a firewall and anti-virus software for your laptop, but didn’t do that for your phone. While there is no guarantee that you’ll be protected 100%, that additional app would do wonders in terms of security.

And also, keep the app updated. An anti-virus app that’s not updated is akin to trying to buy Nasi Lemak Burger from McDonald’s: it’s outdated and definitely futile.