Hackers Can Easily Hijack Your Computer on Free Wi-Fi Connections
Internet access through Wi-Fi networks is popping up in a growing number of locations, ranging from airports to libraries and coffee shops. They are convenient, and in many cases free. That free access however, does come at a cost. Many consumers don't realize free hotspots can easily be compromised and used to steal your Internet logins and passwords.
According to a recent poll conducted by Wakefield Research and Wi-Fi Alliance,32 percent of respondents said they have tried to get on a Wi-Fi network that was not their own, a startling 18 percent increase since the question was asked in December 2008. Connecticut Better Business Bureau, along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), urges consumers to think ahead before surfing the Web on a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The FTC reports new tools available for free online make hacking easy, even for users with limited technical know-how.
Consumers should be cautious before using a non-secure wireless network and sending personal information via unencrypted websites. When surfing on a non-secure Internet connection, an individual's personal information, private documents, contacts, photos and even login information can be up for grabs as other users on the network have the capability of seeing what is being sent.
Connecticut Better Business Bureau President, Paulette Scarpetti, says free Wi-Fi access also can open the door to identity thieves.
"People who take other measures to protect their personal information underestimate the risks of using free Wi-Fi, with the mistaken belief that free public Internet access is safe when it is provided by big retailers and public institutions.
In order to confirm that an Internet connection is secure, BBB advises consumers to follow the FTC's top Wi-Fi tips:
Make sure the connection is protected by a unique password - If a Wi-Fi hotspot doesn’t ask for a password, the Internet connection is not secure. If a hotspot asks for a password just to grant access, consumers should proceed as if the connection were unsecured. Only trust home and work Internet connections that are protected by a customized user password - Wi-Fi hotspot connections with generic passwords are vulnerable to hackers.
Transmitted information should be encrypted - When sending personal information like, addresses' credit card numbers and Social Security numbers over the Internet, make sure the website is fully encrypted and the network secure. Look for https (the "S' stands for secure) at the beginning of a URL address to confirm its security.
Don't stay permanently logged-in to wireless hotspots - Never leave your Internet connection running while your computer is unattended and make sure to log-off after every use.
Change your passwords frequently - Hackers know that most people use the same passwords for multiple sites. If one password is hacked, the chance of other accounts being hacked becomes greater with repeated passwords. Make sure you use different passwords for different sites.
To learn more about protecting your privacy online and what to do if your information is compromised, visit http://www.OnGuardOnline.gov and http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/02/wireless.shtm.