Q: How safe is it to visit Wi-Fi networks while traveling?
A: The BBB definitely advises Internet surfers to use caution when using Wi-Fi networks that are not their own. Protecting your identity is important and with Wi-Fi networks popping up nearly everywhere, many consumers do not realize the dangers that come with using a Wi-Fi connection that is not their own.
According to a recent poll conducted by Wakefield Research and Wi-Fi Alliance, 32 percent of respondents said they have tried to get on a Wi-Fi network that was not their own, a startling 18 percent more than a December 2009 poll. The Better Business Bureau, along with the Federal Trade Commission, urges consumers to think ahead before surfing the Web on a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Wi-Fi hotpots like coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels and universities are all breeding grounds for hackers. According to the FTC, new hacking tools - available free online - make hacking easy, even for users with limited technical know-how.
Consumers should be cautious before using a nonsecure wireless network and before sending personal information via unencrypted websites. When surfing on a nonsecure Internet connection, an individual's personal information, private documents, contacts, photos and even login information can be up for grabs as other users on the network have the capability of seeing what is being sent.
BBB warns consumers against two popular security scams that can be associated with using an unsecure Internet connection. Phishing, a popular e-mailing scam, and smishing, a SMS texting scam, grow exponentially when hackers obtain access to personal information on the Web via an unsecure Wi-Fi network.
Many consumers don't realize the repercussions that come from using a Wi-Fi hotspot. BBB urges consumers to protect themselves from such scams by securing their Internet surfing.
To confirm that an Internet connection is secure, BBB advises consumers to follow the FTC's top Wi-Fi tips:
• Make sure the connection is protected by a unique password. If a Wi-Fi hotspot does not ask for a password, the Internet connection is not secure. If a hotspot asks for a password just to grant access, consumers should proceed as if the connection were unsecured. Trust only home and work Internet connections that are protected by a customized user password. Wi-Fi hotspot connections with generic passwords are vulnerable to hackers.
• Transmitted information should be encrypted. When sending personal information like addresses, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers over the Internet, make sure the website is fully encrypted and the network is secure. Look for https (the "s" stands for secure) at the beginning of the URL address to confirm its security.
• Do not stay permanently logged-in to wireless hotspots. Never leave your Internet connection running while your computer is unattended and make sure to log-off after every use.
• Change your passwords frequently. When creating new accounts, make sure you use different passwords. Do not use the same password for different sites. If one password is hacked, the chances of other accounts being hacked becomes greater with repeated passwords.
For more advice on security scams, visit www.bbb.org or to learn more about protecting your privacy online and what to do if your information is compromised, visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov and http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/02/wireless.shtm.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.