Local News

WiFi Users Online May Put Personal Data on the Line

Posted July 24, 2007 11:14 p.m. EDT
Updated July 24, 2007 11:37 p.m. EDT

— 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.