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Italy outlines free public Wi-Fi program, raising potential privacy concerns

Getting people used to free public Wi-Fi opens them up to the dangers of hidden private honeypot networks.

Italy is pushing ahead with a plan to introduce free public Wi-Fi in as many as 7,000 public squares around the country.

A government press release said that 100 towns have been added to the list, starting with those with under 2,000 inhabitants.

However, the same form of free public Wi-Fi will also be provided in Italy’s major cities, like Rome and Naples.

The project has received 45 million euros in new funding and aims to cover the entire nation with the network. The government describes it as a strategic project whose goal is to improve the country’s digitization effort.

Users will have to download a mobile app and register in order to go online using these public hotspots. The app will manage authentication and connection to any of the networks within range, the government said.

The press release added that users will have to identify themselves with “some basic biographical data.”

Connecting to the internet via public hotspots is one of the riskiest ways to go online – and a potential security and privacy nightmare. It isn’t clear from the Italian ministry’s announcement how much importance that point is being given, considering that hotspots will be provided in as many as 7,000 towns, likely dramatically increasing the number of people using them.

According to the data from several years ago, as many as 40 percent of Italian citizens don’t use the internet, and steering them in the direction of insecure public WiFi may not be the best idea.

The scheme will end up increasing the number of people who could potentially – unless they are educated about the dangers – fall victim to public hotspots’ many risks.

For example, logging into an email or a bank account without using a Virtual Public Network (VPN) is extremely dangerous, since these hotspots are exactly what it says on the box: public. In other words, private data and passwords are exposed to anyone with the tools to collect them.

There is also the danger of man-in-the-middle eavesdropping attacks, picking up malware, and connecting to malicious hotspots posing as legitimate networks.

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