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.