Lakeland Ledger Provides RESCUECOM Wi-Fi Advice to Readers

Secure Your Wi-Fi Connection

Wi-Fi Transmissions Prime for E-Thieves


By Lonnie Brown
February 19, 2006

Lakeland's best-known free wireless connection to the Internet is in the downtown area around Munn Park. The Wi-Fi "hot spots" are all around town, however.

Panera Bread locations on the north and south sides of town have them. Most Starbucks locations around the nation have them.

Laptop and handheld computer users can connect to the Internet through them.

But just as there were warnings in this space last week about using Bluetooth to wirelessly connect devices, there are warnings about Wi-Fi hot spots as well.

Rescuecom, a national computer company with franchise operations specializing in 'round-the-clock computer repair, recently issued some things to do -- and not do -- while using hot spots.

A company spokesman said the list was prompted by an alert from a client who said a hacker had used a wireless network to access his bank account and issue $2,000 worth of checks.

Among the things to do:

  • Install a personal firewall on the computer.
  • Use for-pay instead of free hot spots; hackers are a little less likely to pay fees for access -- but that doesn't make the for-pay sites safe. Ask about what security is in place at the hot spot.
  • Turn off file sharing on the computer.
  • If using a company-supplied laptop, ask the technical-support department if a virtual private network has been installed. If so, communications and files across the company network are encrypted on the computer and will remain hidden from outside connections.
  • Password-protect sensitive information.

What not to do?

  • Don't leave a wireless device on if you aren't connected to the network. Turning the device off will protect files from those on the network.
  • Don't use hot spots for financial transactions. Leave the bank balances and bill payments for a secure connection.
  • Don't use wireless public connections to send private or sensitive information. If you don't want someone else to see it, don't use a hot spot to do it.
  • Don't forget that wireless waves are invisible. Just because there isn't anyone else in the area doesn't mean that someone with the ability to pick up wireless transmissions isn't in another room or just outside a window.
  • Don't forget to keep anti-virus software current, and use Windows' automatic update feature to keep up with the latest security updates.

Burglar tools have always included crowbars, gloves and lock picks. Technology has added laptop computers to the list.

Lonnie Brown is The Ledger's associate editor. He can be reached by e-mail at lonnie.brown@theledger.com.

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