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WiFi Users Online May Put Personal Data on the Line

Posted July 24, 2007

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— Wireless Internet access gives Web surfers convenience and mobility, but it places them at risk of identity theft, according to a recent advisory from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The proliferation of wireless hot spots at places with large numbers of laptop users, such as coffee shops and airports, has made it easier for hackers to access personal information on computers, warned the DHS.

"As things move quicker, it becomes easier and easier not just to steal a single identity but identities by the thousands," said Mark Tombaugh, a network engineer.

The DHS's warning is directed to users such as Fred White, who logs onto Cup-A-Joe's wireless network in Raleigh.

White said he usually doesn't think twice about logging onto hot spots.

"I'm mostly just checking my e-mail," said White.

Above all, people should not use personal information on public hot spots, recommended computer expert Burhan Ahmed.

Jupiter Research recently reported that nearly 60 percent of WiFi users log on only to free hot spots, but DHS warned users against automatically trusting such networks.

Computer experts advised WRAL that people should check to see if a network is security enabled.

"You would not want to log onto that free public WiFi. We don't know who controls it. We don't know who is looking at your data," said Tombaugh.

Computer experts also recommended checking with the network providers to determine if a wireless hot spot is legitimate.


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  • Lightfoot3 Jul 26, 2007


    File and printer sharing are turned OFF by default on Microsoft Windows. In fact, if you try to share your C:\ drive, it will warn you of the dangers before allowing you to do so.

  • dnguyen68 Jul 25, 2007

    dougdeep - Well said
    Open WIFI network is unencrypted (disabled WEP encryption) but data between your computer and the bank is encrypted using SSL.
    Just make sure your browser has a lock symbol at the bottom.

  • dnguyen68 Jul 25, 2007

    kcfoxie - I see a potential problem with your open network. Someone could connect to your open network, send spams or even worst .... a virus to the world. FBI will trace the virus back to your network. Now you have to prove you didn't do it. It's better to lock up your network.

  • dougdeep Jul 25, 2007

    The chances of your banking info stolen, even on an unsecured wifi is slim. Banking, commerce, and many other websites use SSL encrypted web pages and forms. Each connection to the site uses a new 128-bit key. Cracking the key could take months, or even years with powerful computers. If the key is cracked, criminals could only retrieve information from one website session. No one would invest the supercomputing time to take a pop chance at stealing someones bank info.

  • CG12 Jul 25, 2007

    If you are dumb enough to do things like banking and various other private things on an unsecure WIFI in the middle of Starbucks then you deserve to have your information stolen. Use some common sense and you'll be fine.

  • -Enter Screen Name- Jul 25, 2007

    And to add info about firewalls.....While it is a good idea to run a firewall to prevent people from getting INTO your computer, a firewall does nothing to prevent people from viewing the traffic that run between your computer and the wireless Access Point.

  • -Enter Screen Name- Jul 25, 2007

    Argh....seems like people are not reading the article, or just ignoring what it is saying!

    So, first, for a few corrections:

    @nowayebby: WiFi != unsecure. If you're on a public WiFi network, odds are it is unsecure (makes public access easier). However, if you properly setup your WiFi AP at home, then it SHOULD be secure.

    @everyone else: This article is not talking about either people hacking into your computer or general internet sniffing (which requires a little more work).

    What IS being talked about here is that all traffic between your computer and the AP is usually unencrypted on an open WiFi hotspot. As a result, it is trivial for someone to run a sniffer on an open WiFi network.

    So, if you login to read your email, and your password is sent plaintext (with no encryption), everyone on that hotspot can very easily see your password. In short, since I've run out of space, don't send anything over a public hotspot (like passwords) that you wouldn't want others to see.

  • kcfoxie Jul 25, 2007

    Paranoia sells everything. I have nothing to hide, you wouldn't want my credit anyway. I keep my wifi open for the scavengers, why should knowledge be available only to those who can afford the outrageous price for it?

  • doctorcaligari Jul 25, 2007

    You might be somewhat secure from someone getting into your computer, but not protected from data packets being intercepted and captured after leaving your computer. An improperly configured program can still send out your passwords as unencrypted plain text.

    To tell you the truth, it's not that hard to intercept the packets on a wired network either, it just requires more physical access to the network.

  • WRALSUCKS Jul 25, 2007

    Yawwwnnnn...another "disaster" pimped by the media.