*By Deanne Katz, Esq.
Seeing that tiny sign for “Free WiFi” at a bookstore or coffee shop is always a little thrilling, especially if you need to get some work done online. But you may be paying the price when it comes to your Internet security.
As great as unsecured web access is, it can be a real problem if you want to keep your computer and its information safe. Unsecured access means anyone can be on the network. And it also means anyone can be snooping into what you’re doing online.
If that makes you uneasy, you may just want to stop using unsecured public WiFi altogether. Alternatively, there are some steps you can take to to keep your information more secure. For example:
• Vary your passwords. One of the most common security breaches happens when someone discovers a password that you use online. Many people reuse passwords on all or many of their accounts, which means one stolen password may place a lot of things at risk. Don’t use the same password for Facebook as you use for your bank account, and try to change your passwords once or twice a year, just in case.
• Stay on secure sites. Some websites are secured with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which you can tell by the web address; it should say “https” instead of “http.” That extra letter means those sites are encrypting your information, such as credit card numbers and your user ID and password, so hackers can’t get access to them. If you’re not on a secure site, definitely don’t enter sensitive information.
• Double-check the WiFi network. This is a decidedly low-tech form of protection, but make sure the WiFi network you connect to is the one the coffee shop offers. Sometimes hackers will set up similarly named networks that reach the same spot in the hopes patrons will confuse them. Using the hacker’s network makes it easier for him or her to steal your information while your computer is connected. You may feel foolish asking the barista for the WiFi connection’s name, but it’s worth it.