In 2013, seeing business professionals and students huddled over laptop computers while sipping an espresso at their favorite coffee shop is a common site in virtually any metropolitan area in the country.
The convenience and ease of use have made this a very popular pastime. While ordering a hot cup of caffeine and hooking up to free internet has obvious advantages, many consumers aren’t aware that they’re in potentially dangerous “hot zones” for identity theft.
Free Wireless Like a Beacon
Public WiFi is a beacon for those who would seek to harvest your personal information through your internet connection. Free wireless networks are usually not password-protected, or have a password that’s publicly available. This means that every time you sign on to a public wifi connection, you’re essentially sharing a connection with any and all strangers in the area. Your computer is more exposed to the threats of malware or viruses which may be present on another’s laptop, not to mention the threat of a nefarious fellow coffee lover snooping through your shared files, and monitoring your internet activity.
Most people don’t realize that when sharing a network internet connection with someone, there is no additional firewall or security in place to protect the information stored on your computer. This quite naturally makes coffee shops and other areas that offer free public WiFi very attractive to would-be identity thieves.
If you can avoid using public WiFi altogether, do so…if you just can’t resist checking the scores or the weather while sipping that cup of joe, or if that’s your only regular access to the internet, try to avoid doing potentially dangerous activities like online banking, filing tax returns, or checking any email accounts that might have valuable information stored in it; as this information could be harvested from your machine and used against you.
Another option is to download a virtual private network (VPN) like Private WiFi. A VPN is software that encrypts all the data going between your computer and the wireless router you are connected to. It basically makes your computer invisible to hackers so they are unable to see and capture the data you are transmitting.
One more tip is to be wary of any wireless network that shows up with a stronger signal than the network offered by the coffee shop. Often potential hackers will generate their own network signal to have others “hook up” to them, exposing all their information. Other network users will see the stronger signal and connect to it unwittingly, without realizing that they’ve just voluntarily offered up anything that isn’t independently password-protected for viewing by the thief.
Finaly, when using your home wireless connection, ensure that it’s always password-protected. Remember, you never know who else may be online.