There’s nothing quite as frustrating as being stuck in an airport with nothing to do, especially if your flight is delayed. Many airports offer complimentary Wi-Fi, but often this Wi-Fi is only free for a set amount of time. As soon as you hit that time limit, you may find yourself permanently locked out of the network – unless you’re willing to hand over your credit card details!
In this article I’m going to show you how to turn limited free Wi-Fi into unlimited free Wi-Fi. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to trick any Wi-Fi network into viewing you as a brand new user, every time you disconnect and then re-connect to the network. By repeating these steps, you’ll be able to keep resetting the network countdown, potentially indefinitely.
Time limits aren’t the only restrictions you may encounter when trying to connect to a public network, as it’s not unusual for networks to be password-protected, even if they’re supposed to be public. If an airport’s Wi-Fi network is protected by a password, then you can often get the password by asking at reception or by checking signs or posters around the area – but why make connecting to the web harder than it needs to be? In this article I’ll also be showing you how to use your iPad or iPhone to get instant access to over 100 million public Wi-Fi passwords, including the passwords for networks at airports across the globe.
Finally, I’ll be sharing some additional techniques you can use to get online when all else fails, including turning your smartphone into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.
Although I’m going to be talking about airport Wi-Fi, you can apply these techniques to any public network, so whether you’re sat in your local bar, cafe or restaurant, or in a hotel on the opposite side of the world, you’ll be able to side-step those frustrating restrictions and browse for free, potentially for however long you want.
But first, a disclaimer: many venues have legitimate reasons for restricting your access to Wi-Fi. While it’s unlikely that anyone will notice you pushing the boundaries a little, just be careful not to push them too far. Extending your free browsing session by 10 minutes when you’re sat in the middle of a half-empty airport lounge is unlikely to cause problems, but hogging the last available table at your local cafe for an extra hour, just so you can continue to use their Wi-Fi, is a completely different story.
Basically, don’t abuse these techniques to the point where it starts to negatively impact other patrons, or the venue itself.
Spoofing your Mac Address
Restricted airport networks monitor how long you’ve been online, by logging your device’s MAC (Media Access Control) address, a set of letters and numbers that uniquely identifies your computer.
By default, this MAC address is the only way that a public Wi-Fi network can identify your computer, so you can extend your free trial by changing your MAC address whenever you reach the time limit. Once you have a new MAC address, the network will view you as a new user, and will reset the timer.
MAC addresses are hard-coded, but you can change them temporarily either by issuing Terminal commands or by using spoofing software.
Since it’s the easiest option, let’s look at an app that enables you to change our MAC address with the click of a button. There are numerous MAC spoofing programs out there, but I’m going to be using LinkLiar, so head over to its GitHub page and download the latest release of LinkLiar.app.zip. Once you’ve downloaded this file, unzip and launch it.
If you encounter a message warning you that LinkLiar is from an unidentified developer, then complete the following steps:
- Open your Mac’s ‘System preferences…’
- Select ‘Security & Privacy.’
- Find the ‘LinkLiar was blocked….’ message and click its accompanying ‘Open Anyway’ button. You should now be able to launch LinkLiar without any problems.
- After launching LinkLiar, you’ll notice that a new icon has been added to your Mac toolbar. Click this icon and select ‘Authorize LinkLiar’ from the dropdown menu. When prompted, enter your admin username and password.
Whenever you want to change your MAC address, disconnect from the WiFi and clear your cache by:
- Opening Safari’s ‘Preferences.’
- Selecting the ‘Privacy’ tab.
- Clicking the ‘Manage Website Data’ button.
- In the subsequent window, click ‘Remove all.’
You can then use LinkLiar to generate a new MAC address:
- Click the LinkLiar icon to open a dropdown menu.
- This menu includes your current MAC address; hover over this string of letters and numbers, to open a submenu.
- Generate a new MAC address, by selecting ‘Random.’
Reconnect to the Wi-Fi and you should find that the timer has now been reset. If you exceed the time limit again, then simply repeat these steps to bring that timer back to zero.
If you do manually change your MAC address, then you don’t need to worry about losing your original address, as this information is embedded into your hardware and your computer will revert to its original settings the next time it restarts. If you do need to revert to your original address and don’t want to go to the trouble of restarting your computer, then you can always restore your original address via LinkLiar:
- Launch the LinkLiar app and click its icon in the toolbar.
- Hover over your current MAC address to open the submenu.
- Select ‘Reset to original.’
Spoof your MAC Address from the Terminal
If you’re familiar with Terminal commands or you just don’t like the idea of installing yet another app, then you can also change your MAC address via the Terminal.
The major drawback to spoofing via the Terminal is that if you ever want to revert to your original address without restarting your computer, then you’ll need to enter your original MAC address into the Terminal. Therefore, it’s recommended that you make a note of your original address before generating a new one. To find your computer’s MAC address, hold down the ‘Option’ key on you keyboard while clicking the ‘Wi-Fi’ icon in the toolbar – you’ll find this information towards the top of the menu.
When you’re ready to spoof your address, launch your Mac’s Terminal by opening a ‘Finder’ window and navigating to ‘Applications > Utilities > Terminal.’
The easiest way to change your MAC address is to generate one at random, by entering the following command into the Terminal:
openssl rand -hex 6 | sed ‘s/\(..\)/\1:/g; s/.$//’ | xargs sudo ifconfig en0 ether
Then, just press the ‘Enter’ key on your keyboard and your computer will start using this new address.
To switch back to your original address without restarting your computer, enter the following command into the Terminal, making sure to replace the final bit of text with your original MAC address:
sudo ifconfig en0 ether yo:ur:ma:ca:dd:re:ss
Use the Airport Wi-Fi Password Map
Time limits aren’t the only restriction that venues may place on their networks, as some public networks are also secured with a password. Most of the time they’ll be a way to get this password for free, for example by asking a member of staff, or checking signs and posters around the venue, but tracking down a Wi-Fi password isn’t always easy. Maybe there’s no staff in the immediate area, or your flight may be boarding soon and you don’t particularly want to go wandering off in search of a Wi-Fi password.
Whatever the situation, if you need a password for a public network then there’s numerous websites and apps that are dedicated to helping people share passwords they’ve discovered for public networks, so you don’t have to go wandering around the airport looking for this information yourself.
The WiFox app is designed to provide users with the passwords for airport Wi-Fi networks, whereas WiFi Map has a huge database of over 100 million public Wi-Fi passwords spanning a wide range of venues, including airports. Download your chosen app to your iPhone or iPad, or even your Android device, and the next time you find yourself needing a password for a public network, simply launch your app and check whether someone has already uploaded this information.
Visit places that are likely to have free Wi-Fi
If you do find yourself at an airport that doesn’t have its own public Wi-Fi network, then you may find that the cafes, restaurants, bars and other establishments inside the airport do offer free Wi-Fi.
Depending on the venue, you may need to make a purchase in order to use their Wi-Fi network, but if you have a long wait ahead of you then this may feel like a small price to pay for all the entertainment the Internet has to offer! And, if the establishment in question has placed a time restriction on their Wi-Fi, then you can always spoof your MAC address using the techniques discussed earlier in this article.
In the event that you can’t find a public Wi-Fi network anywhere inside the airport, then as a last resort you may want to check whether there’s any kind of VIP or executive lounge, as these areas typically offer lots of perks, including complimentary Wi-Fi. While a Wi-Fi signal is unlikely to stretch far beyond the confines of a VIP or executive lounge, you may get lucky and find yourself able to get a connection if you’re in the general area.
Turn your smartphone into a Wi-Fi hotspot
If you can’t find a Wi-Fi network to connect to, then you may be able to turn your smartphone into its own Wi-Fi network.
Many modern smartphones allow you to share your mobile data with different devices, in a process known as tethering. When your smartphone’s tethering feature is enabled, it creates a small, localised wireless Internet connection that you can then connect to using any Wi-Fi enabled device.
The drawback is that tethering does require some research, so if you have an upcoming trip where you suspect you might struggle to find an open Wi-Fi network, then you should do some research in advance.
Firstly, the process of enabling tethering differs between devices so you should head over to your favourite search engine and look for the instructions for your particular device.
Secondly, some mobile providers may block tethering or charge considerably higher fees once you’ve enabled this feature, so you should always check the fine print of your mobile contract before sharing your mobile data between devices. And just be aware that tethering can burn through your data allowance at an alarming rate, so it’s important to keep track of exactly how much data you’re using, to avoid racking up a huge bill.
Consider investing in a MiFi
If you regularly struggle to find a decent Wi-Fi connection then you may want to consider purchasing a MiFi, a wireless router that can turn a 3G or 4G mobile phone network into a localised Wi-Fi hotspot. This means that as long as you can get a phone signal, you can use your MiFi device to create your own Wi-Fi network.
If you’re a regular traveller, then MiFi can help keep your roaming charges under control by allowing you to pay a single fixed-roaming fee for your MiFi device, rather than separate fees for all of your Internet-enabled devices.
If you do decide to purchase a MiFi, then it’s recommended that you shop around before making your purchase, as you can usually save yourself some money by purchasing the MiFi router first and then purchasing a data-only SIM separately, rather than signing up for an all-in-one bundle from a mobile operator.