Nearly 70,000 businesses from coffeehouses to hotels and
airports now offer free public Internet connections, or Wi-Fi
But how safe is it to go online at hotspot?
Our partners at
Consumer Reports Magazine warn you need to be
Hackers set up fake hotspots
"You're actually connecting into a computer network with
strangers. And a hacker can get at personal information that you
provide, or even trick you into connecting to a fake
hotspot,” said Consumer Reports engineer Dean Gallea.
To illustrate, Gallea parked near a Starbucks with his laptop.
Outside, his colleague was logging on. A phony "Starbucks Free"
connection that Gallea created came up at the top of the list.
"She chose my fake hotspot instead of the real one, so she'll be
seeing a fake webpage I set up and I'll be able to see any personal
information she types in,” Gallea said.
Consumer Reports said before logging on to public Wi-Fi, be sure
to confirm the name of the wireless network connection.
In this case, it wasn't Starbucks. It was AT&T Wi-Fi
down the list. But if you are sitting in a Starbucks, it's easy to
log on to a Starbucks hotspot page, even if it is not the real
Look for "https" in address bar
To be safe, don't send personal information like a credit-card
number or bank account login password unless you see the letters
"https" in the address bar and not simply "http." The "s" means the
data leaving your computer is sent securely.
"But your best protection when you're connected to a public
hotspot is just not to send any personal information at all,”
Consumer Reports said there's another important step to take to
keep your information secure at public hotspots. You should disable
file and printer sharing features. This will
prevent people on the wireless network from gaining access to your
personal documents. Check your computer's Help menu to find out how
to do this.
The Bottom Line
Confused by file sharing? The simplest thing is to use free
Wi-Fi hotspots for basic web surfing only.
Leave the bank account login to your home computer, so you
stay safe and don't waste your money.