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Pattaya Daily News

13 March 2010 :: 10:03:09 am 15518

Wi-Fi: Just How Safe Is It?

Wi-Fi wireless technology is available in most coffee shops and cafés across the world, but can be risky if you do not take proper precautions.
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Wi-Fi is short for wireless fidelity and is a global standard for wireless equipment with most laptops having an option for a certified Wi-Fi adapter if not already having standard equipment. Connection speed can be as fast if not faster than cable modems with wireless computers connecting wireleslly to a wireless router, which is then connected to the internet by means of a cable or DSL modem.

Wi-Fi technology enables you to communicate in the same way as a cell phone only the cells are called hot spots with nearly 100,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in 96 countries around the world. USA has the highest number of hotspots, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan.

Most of the hot spots are provided by companies or services where there is already a paying customer, such as hotels, cafés, or ISP’s. A few free hotspots can be found in public places and restaurants, but may not last very long. As more ISP companies jump on the band wagon, they will soon be putting together service packages with guaranteed access to certified service areas.

Hotspots, present many new sets of security issues due to unknown computers sharing the same local network, with public hotspots not using any encryption protocols or security functions as providers feel it would negate the public aspect of hotspots and require customers to go through endless obstacles before being connected, allowing data sent from public hotspots to be intercepted by just about any one, though there are several basic thing that can be done to protect sensitive transmissions.

Many rogue access points have sprung up in public areas which connect directly to hijackers’ data bases where passwords, usernames and even credit card details are collected. Do not set your wireless card to connect automatically to any available net work. Any user within approximately 60 meters of the access point is able to connect to the internet, but for a transfer rate, distances of 30 meters or less are available. Make sure the ad-hoc mode and your Wi-Fi card is turned off as soon as you have finished. There are many people who will take advantage of others and Wi-Fi technology is no exception.

Every time you log on to a public Wi-Fi point, you transmit your login details over open airwaves. As networks and hotspots increase, so does the opportunity for nefarious purposes. As a precaution it would be best avoiding websites that send user names, passwords or email when using free Wi-Fi, also when accessing these website from home, the data is still travelling across the internet in plain text, encouraging online snoopers. By avoiding these sites you are eliminating the risks of local users who may be snooping wireless traffic.

Surveys show that many public as well as private Wi-Fi networks do not use encryption at all meaning anyone can intercept data packages being sent or received by legitimate users.

Although networks have a lot to offer, how can a company be sure that private data remains private? There are many options available for making a wireless network safer, although no network can be 100% secure. With the numerous freeware and shareware encryption programs available, it is possible to prevent the majority of hackers from accessing confidential information with little costs and effort. Passwords should be used for sensitive files and folders as well as accessing your computer as a whole.

Online banking uses point to point encryption as do all legitimate websites that require personal data to provide a service. Any website that requires a username and password should be quite secure when connecting to exchange credentials.

When connecting to public wireless networks, you are joining local networks with other unknown computers. Protect your computer by running a personal firewall program such as Zone Labs, Zone Alarm and Kerio’s Personal Firewall to restrict what traffic is allowed in and out of your computer making sure you familiarize yourself with the chosen product and configure it properly to get maximum protection.

Also, when you connect to a public network you have no assurance that the other machines on the network with you are protected against viruses and other malicious code. Suddenly it is more important than ever to have antivirus software installed, and be sure to update the virus definitions at least once a week.

By learning how to implement Wi-Fi technology into their business processes, people can increase productivity and extend their global reach. But care must be taken to ensure safe wireless transmissions, in order to protect vital business data and keep it private. You should not use a public computer for anything more than casual surfing. Computers store usernames, passwords and other data in a type of memory called a cache making it possible for others to retrieve at a later date and could also be infected with key logger software that records keystrokes, defeating the purpose of point to point encryption by trapping account numbers, usernames and passwords as they are typed into the keyboard.

Patty Brown

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