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Dangers Of Wifi Hotspots

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Scott DeGirolamo is a computer security expert and the owner of Computer Guy. Scott DeGirolamo is a computer security expert and the owner of Computer Guy.
PHILADELPHIA -

They're called wifi hotspots or wireless Internet zones. They're inside coffeehouses, hotels, restaurants, and even buses and trains.

And when you're connected, you can access digital information, literally out of thin air.

Wifi is popping up everywhere. It's fast, convenient, and when you're on the go, an easy way to connect the world to your smartphone or laptop.

"It's just available everywhere which makes everything a lot easier and everything is faster over the Internet and your cellular network, so it's always an easier way to go," describes a wifi user sitting in a cafe.

But there's a potential dark side to this high-tech wizardry. Unlike private, wired networks that prevent unwanted access, public or shared wifi connections can be hacked and compromised.

"You can snoop the wireless signals coming across the Internet very easily," says Scott DeGirolamo.

Scott DeGirolamo is a computer security expert and the owner of Computer Guy in northeast Philadelphia.

He says hackers can steal so-called "data packets" from shared wifi networks if the digital information is not protected by a secure login or an encryption service. Without protection, degirolamo says, "You're a sitting duck."

"Someone could be within a 100 feet or 100 yards sniffing your packets that are sent out from your device to the Internet and recording and seeing everything that is sent," explains DeGirolamo.

How easy is it for hackers to steal your unprotected info? We asked DeGirolamo for a demo.

DeGirolamo set up a phony bank statement and accessed the information using an unprotected wifi network.

"So now I'm setting up a user name and password for access for an online hacking profile," explains DeGirolamo.

Managing technician and Computer Guy employee, Mike Jablonowski played the role of a would be hacker.

"Well, by having his computer onto the WiFi, his computer is now joined to the network. From the network we can view his computer and everything he has on it that is open," says Jablonowski. "With no security, we can jump right in and grab it without any problems, and again, he doesn't even realize we've been in his computer."

"Anyone can do this, it doesn't require special skills at all," adds DeGirolamo. "You have to be a little savvy on the Internet, but you certainly don't have to be a hacker."

If you use your wifi, experts say take steps to help protect yourself:

Choose a location that offers a secure log-in.

Make sure your device has all the latest security updates and patches.

Change the default setting so you have to manually select a wireless network.

And, disconnect wifi settings when you're computer or smartphone is not in use.

The bottom line? if you're not using protection, use your common sense.

"If you're in an open wireless network it wouldn't be a good idea to use an APP for your bank or any other sensitive data. probably wouldn't be a good idea to work with in that sort of open environment because any one could see what you're doing," advises DeGirolamo.

A very simple wifi safety tip to keep in mind, always look over your shoulder before you put in passwords. You never know when crooks are spying on your passwords. Or your credit card numbers.

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