Wireless hot spots can be hotbeds for identity theft

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New York Post financial writer John Crudele spent some time in a Manhattan café and  discovered how easy it is for crooks to get access to your computer data over free public WiFi networks.
We set up camp in a popular coffee shop in Greenwich Village packed with NYU and Cooper Union students, and then powered up an ordinary-looking ThinkPad computer that happened to be tricked out with run-of-the-mill theft software, and waited to see how many peoples' identities we could potentially steal.

Within five seconds, four people had unknowingly connected to our computer. Within minutes, 32 computers had hooked onto ours; then there were 71. Then we shut the software down.

How is this possible?  Scurity manager, Jenner Holden's ThinkPad was "looking" for other computers using wireless, "pretending to be a network to entice the computer users around us to connect to us instead of the legitimate network," according to Jenner.

"If a fake network like ours has a stronger signal than the café's computers, the surfers would naturally gravitate towards our passage to the Internet -- and if we were actual crooks -- we could have swiped their bank account numbers, their customer IDs and their passwords," Crudele writes.

Your wireless network at home is not immune.

Some criminals set up shop in cars and drive around looking for unlocked wireless, to steal data or hack into other sites, send spam email or even porn. An office building or apartment complex can be a gold mine for thieves.

So what's the best strategy that you can use to protect yourself from these types of intrusions? Avoid signing into important accounts such as your bank and e-mail accounts when using public wireless networks.

One solution is to use a Virtual Private Network, but it can be costly. Holden offers an easier solution; "So every time you get the urge to use a public, free WiFi network, ask yourself this: "Do you really need to do your banking right then over that wireless net work?"

For more info see: wireless security

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