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Experts: Public WiFi not always secure

Aug. 21, 2010 at 5:20 PM   |   Comments

MIAMI, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. experts say computer users should be more security-aware and cautious when using WiFi networks in public places like libraries and coffee shops.

Simple precautions available in most WiFi hardware, like encryption protocols, can protect users and their computers at home but not necessarily in public places, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Friday.

WiFi use in public places such as coffee shops is becoming increasingly popular, but these networks are typically wide open, Eric Johnson, a computer security expert at Florida International University, said.

"You should always treat any Internet activity you do at these locations as if it's being monitored," he said.

At home, he said, it's easier to use a network router's security features to protect private data.

"It's like putting a lock on your door of your house," Johnson said. "That's not going to stop a determined bad guy, but it's going to keep the wandering neighbor from making use of your Internet connection without your knowledge."

Encryption is built into any hardware that is branded "WiFi Certified," given to products authorized by the WiFi Alliance, a non-profit consortium of technology companies.

This protects home networks by securing data between the access point and the computer with government-grade encryption, the alliance Web site says.

Still, experts warn, users should always be aware of risks.

"The (WiFi) user should be in the mindset that nothing is 100 percent secure," Elias Montoya, technology director for a Miami-based law firm, said. "If someone is intent on hacking you, they will."

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