TechRepublic.com has an excellent article about security at internet hotspots. As with most things technological, the answer to the common question “Are Wifi Hotspots Safe?” is not as easy as it should be. I’d say the best simple summary I have to date is this:
1.Free Wifi networks at coffee shops, airports, etc are generally safe to use.
2. There’s always a chance that somebody will set up a “fake” network alongside a real one, but common sense will help prevent your accidental use of networks of dubious origin.
3. Although most of the time your online banking and passwords probably would not be hacked at a quality public wifi hotspot where you are confident of the provider, avoid banking and other high security activities in public when possible.
4. Pay attention to the HTTPS appearing in the address bar, which generally means your actions are encrypted and therefore MUCH safer. NEVER enter passwords when you don’t see the HTTPS as part of the web address.
The long answer is far more complex, because there are many variations on the hacking theme, and good hackers could steal all but very secure information in a variety of ways.