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Beware: Free Wi-Fi may not be secure

November 11, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Wi-Fi technology makes it easier for you to get onto the Internet just about anywhere, and there are more places where you can log on for free. But there are some dangers.Free Wi-Fi access at the airport is a really nice perk and, thanks to Google, 47 airports across the country will offer it through the middle of January. In the Southland only Bob Hope Airport in Burbank will have free Wi-Fi.

"If we do have a free service and they can verify that it is secure I don't have a problem with that. I'd like to save the $50 a month," said Darrell Yelton of Burbank.

And that's the problem. Not all Wi-Fi is secure. In fact, it is simple to hack into your computer whether you are at the airport or at home.

Eyewitness News joined Steve Trilling of Symantec, the makers of Norton Anti-Virus, to visit a Santa Monica neighborhood.

"We're going to drive around some local neighborhoods looking at wireless networks. We're going to see many of them are unsecured, easy for hackers to get into," said Trilling. "It'll take us 30 seconds to find one, I promise you."

Steve was armed with a laptop loaded with wireless software that can be purchased over the Internet or in any computer store, which we planned to use to hack into someone's wireless connection in their home. It didn't take more than a few seconds for Steve to live up to his word. He was in.

"Oh yeah, we've got lots of networks here that are easy to get into. Very simple for any hacker, anybody with very simple tools easily available on the Internet could get into these," said Trilling. "There are wireless networks all over here and the vast majority of them are unsecured, very easy to get into."

If you plan to use Wi-Fi, here's what you need to do to protect yourself:

  • Configure device to not automatically connect
  • Use a virtual private network
  • Use a firewall
  • Always use complex passwords

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