When you connect to a free wifi spot your signals are being broadcast for anyone to see within the range of the spot. In order to operate securely in this environment you need to ensure your email is encrypted. If it isn’t encrypted then the first thing that happens is your username and password are broadcast in plain text, which to someone listening in on the network is like you shouting your password across the room. Once they have your username and password with so many internet services relying on your email being secure they can change your banking and other passwords and start robbing you.
Simple steps can be taken to avoid this. For the small business’s we look after we ensure the users connect to the server using SSL. This encrypts the traffic and once set up the user doesn’t even know its happening. Our servers are configured to only allow secure login’s so there is no chance that fiddling fingers can ruin the security. When we use other services such as GoogleMail we ensure the systems are set up correctly.