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Wi-Fi Warning: That Person Next To You May Be A Hacker

Next time you flip open your laptop as you wait for a flight or work at a coffee shop, beware, says the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The person next to you may be stealing your personal bank account information, address book and other files from your computer.

The agency warned earlier this week that the information on your computers may not be protected when using some of the 68,000 Wi-Fi hot spots, or local wireless Internet connections, around the country.

"Odds are there's a hacker nearby, with his own laptop, attempting to 'eavesdrop' on your computer to obtain personal data that will provide access to your money or even to your company's sensitive information," the FBI said in a advisory on its Web site.

Wi-Fi connections are common at airports, hotels, bookstores, schools and parks. Many of the hot spots are secure, the agency said, but if you tap into some of the unsecured networks, you may be opening yourself up for a personal invasion.

The warning prompted Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to issue a consumer advisory to warn of such risks.

"Florida users should be careful not to trade convenience of access for compromised information," McCollum said.

Think that's bad, the FBI goes further to warn that if a hacker hooks into your computer, you are also connecting to his computer. That means you could be unknowingly downloading viruses and worms.

To protect yourself, the FBI advises the following:

-Update the security protection on your computer with current versions of operating systems, web browsers, firewalls and antivirus and anti-spyware software.

-When tapped into a Wi-Fi network, don't conduct financial transactions or use e- mail and instant messaging.

-Change the default setting on your laptop so you have to manually select the Wi-Fi network you connect to.

-Turn off your laptop's Wi-Fi capabilities when you're not using them.

By Cecilia Kang  |  May 9, 2008; 4:34 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I could see avoiding financial transactions on an unsecured network. But not checking e-mail would be out of the question for most Web surfers.

How much protection do the secure e-mail Web sites provide (those with https URLs)? Enough to ward off the hacker at the next table?

Posted by: HTTPS | May 12, 2008 3:19 PM

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