FBI Issues Warning About Wi-Fi Hotspots

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The FBI issued an alert this week warning that wireless Internet networks, often called Wi-Fi hotspots, are more vulnerable to hackers than most users probably realize.

Wi-Fi hotspots are at airports, fast food restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, sports bars, school campuses, malls, supermarkets -- just about everywhere. Several cities and neighborhoods in the region plan to eventually install networks for residents, too.

For everyone to be able to access the networks, though, security has to be low. That means that often there is no password or registration needed to use the service, and e-mails and instant messages are not encrypted.

Those settings make it very easy for a hacker working from anywhere around the world to use computer codes to peek into your computer and steal sensitive information.

"It's a risky environment," said Derek Kerton, a computer analyst and consultant in San Jose, Calif. "It's like we've left the door open to the house."

But just like a steering wheel lock or car alarm can deter a thief, an up-to-date firewall installed on your computer is the first line of defense against a hacker, Kerton said.

Firewalls, though, don't protect information sent to and from a computer, such as e-mails and instant messages, or IMs. So you shouldn't e-mail or IM when on a Wi-Fi network unless your workplace or other institution has given you access to a virtual private network, or VPN. The VPN is a secure network that encrypts information sent to and from your computer.

Victims often don't know that they've been hacked until their personal information or identity has been stolen.

Here are some tips from the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on how to keep your personal computer data safe:

• Make sure your laptop security is up to date. That includes firewall, antivirus and anti-spyware software. Spyware is a kind of program that can collect information from your computer without your knowledge. It's sometimes used by companies that want to collect marketing information about people who log on to their Web site, but spyware has also been used by hackers who want to mine information from someone's computer.

• When using a Wi-Fi service, avoid logging in to financial accounts of any kind because hackers might be able to monitor your computer from another location to see what you are typing and steal your log-in information. For the same reason, you also want to avoid logging into e-mail accounts and instant messaging services.

• When logging on to a site, glance at the address bar to check that you're at an authentic Web page. Hackers set up fake Web pages that look like the real thing to trick people into typing in their log-in information.

If the Web address that appears is different from what you originally typed, don't enter your personal information. Close your browser and leave the Wi-Fi network.

• Don't use the same password for all your online accounts. That way if hackers steal a password, they won't be able to use it at more than one Web site.

• Make sure your computer does not automatically log on to wireless networks. You can do this by adjusting the Internet security settings on your computer. As an added precaution, turn the computer off when you're not around to ensure that it's not picking up a wireless network signal.

Source: Sun-Sentinel

For More info on wireless safety see prior blog:

Protect your computer from hackers -before it's too late.

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