Windows XP bug behind Free Public Wi-Fi that isn’t

Free Wi-Fi is getting harder and harder to find these days. Well, real free Wi-Fi, anyway. As many of you have no doubt noticed, Windows often finds an ad hoc “Free Public WiFi” network. I’ve seen this network pop up in airports and at trade shows, and I’ve always assumed it was honeypot scam trolling for passwords and credit card information. As it turns out, the culprit in this nefarious scheme is Windows XP—but it’s not what you think. NPR explains:

When a computer running an older version of XP can’t find any of its “favorite” wireless networks, it will automatically create an ad hoc network with the same name as the last one it connected to -– in this case, “Free Public WiFi.” Other computers within range of that new ad hoc network can see it, luring other users to connect. And who can resist the word “free?”
Not a lot of people, judging from the spread of Free Public WiFi. Computers with the XP bug that try to connect to the Internet will remember the name, create their own ad hoc networks and entice other users wherever they go.

This zombie network has other aliases, too. NPR notes that “linksys,” “tmobile,” and “default,” are all popular names. To Microsoft’s credit, neither Vista nor Windows 7 are affected, although they can certainly see the networks spawned by what’s being called a virus. Service Pack 3 addressed the problem for Windows XP, but it appears that plenty of folks haven’t installed the update.

Comments closed
    • axeman
    • 12 years ago

    I’m fairly certain vista was ;P

    • Krogoth
    • 12 years ago

    Protip: Most people don’t properly lockdown their WLANs.

    It is no surprise why wardriving is easy tier.

    • djgandy
    • 12 years ago

    Someone on the internet that understands that a multi-million line operating system wasn’t all written on the day of release?

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 12 years ago

    1997 was a long time ago now.

    • ludi
    • 12 years ago

    Shuuuutttt uuupp…ixnay with the entientsay! You want to be next on The List?

    • Forge
    • 12 years ago

    Actually, at one point dd-wrt and a few other notable and otherwise-trustworthy router firmwares shipped with Sputnik support.

    §[<<]§ This is probably what you're seeing on your neighbor's "open" SSID. IIRC, it's basically turnkey and trivial to setup. If it were me, I'd find the associated private AP (same channel and MAC), and get on that. It might take a while, but I'm sure it would be worth it. :)

    • dmitriylm
    • 12 years ago

    Often the default name is that of the router manufacturer.

    • PetMiceRnice
    • 12 years ago

    Yeah but SP3 for Windows XP has been out for quite some time now and it addresses the issue. Microsoft can’t be blamed if people have not installed SP3 by now.

    • Sahrin
    • 12 years ago

    XP? That’s the OS that came with the original UNIVAC, right?

    Geez people. At some point it has to be OK (that is, not front page newsworthy) for NT5.1, a version 6+ years out of date, to not be pristine bug-free code.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 12 years ago

    It wasn’t a programmer, it is the Internet becoming sentient!

    • cygnus1
    • 12 years ago

    actually, some idiot in my neighborhood has a legit AP setup with that Free Public WiFi name. i used a fresh build laptop to check it out and it wants a credit card to actually use, and i’m sure that’s all you’d get billed for…

    • Sargent Duck
    • 12 years ago

    I’ve seen “linksys” before and always wondered who’d name their wireless network after their router?

    That being said, can’t really blame Microsoft on this one. XP was out before wireless Internet was even popular among enthusiasts, and Microsoft did fix the problem with SP3…which came out April 2008…and even then it would have been automatically downloaded if you had that feature enabled.

    No sympathies here for pre SP3 XP users

    • Joerdgs
    • 12 years ago

    You always have to wonder what programmer thought that was a good idea.

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