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Keep Your Computer Safe From Wi-Fi Criminals

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shutterstock_47296066When you’re traveling with your family this summer, the last thing you want to have to do is look over your shoulder constantly to fend against fraud or identity theft. While the portability of a tablet or laptop is very convenient, before you connect with that public Wi-Fi network, be aware that it could be teeming with hackers and identity thieves just waiting to get a hold of your personal information.

Stay Vigilant

If you’re logged into a wireless network and it’s not secure, everything you send over the network is vulnerable to theft. With more public Wi-Fi users than ever, the atmosphere is ripe for identity theft. The AT&T company reported that the first three months of 2012 showed triple the use of Wi-Fi from the first quarter of the previous year. Cyber criminals have more opportunities than ever to snag your personal information.

Unfortunately, while usage volume has multiplied, security measures used at public hotspots have not changed much. In fact, public hot spots are known for being more lax in order to enable users to log on to the network as rapidly and easily as possible. With Wi-Fi use on the rise, there’s definitely a higher risk of fraud and scams that users can fall victim to.

Beware of Imposters

One of the biggest security pitfalls comes from the fact that anyone with a computer can pose as a hotspot. Hackers and identity thieves are able to create a fake SSID, i.e. spoof the name of a legitimate wireless network. A false SSID can be enough to fool users into using it to log into their most secure and sensitive accounts.

The cyber criminals are then able to see the sites that the user is visiting, as well as their login credentials. Since a lot of people tend to reuse the same passwords over and over, the risk of further security breaches and identity theft rises.

Fortunately, there are things that travelers can do to stay safe. There’s no reason to totally stop using Wi-Fi in public places while traveling, but precautions should be taken when there is a risk of using an unsecured hotspot.

Surf Selectively

One of the easiest and most practical steps a traveler can take in order to protect sensitive information is to refrain from sending it over public Wi-Fi networks. Banking, personal health care, credit card and other financial account sites should be avoided.

If you’re in an airport or a shopping mall, make sure the Wi-Fi you use is from a known company, not a generically named network such as “Free Airport Wi-Fi.”

Be Proactive

Signing on to an identity monitoring service such as Lifelock can give you added peace of mind while traveling. You will be alerted immediately if there is any suspicious activity on your credit report.

You might also consider signing on for your cell phone company’s tethering or mobile hot spot feature for secure internet access on your trip. This will add to the cost of your wireless bills, but the peace of mind could be worth it.

While there are now more sophisticated versions of security protocols for networks such as WPA2, users cannot always be sure the network they are using is employing this method. Cyber criminals tend to target travelers, and as technology gets more sophisticated, hackers will follow suit. Be smart, follow the precautionary steps above and you’ll have a great chance of staying safe while traveling and using the internet.

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