These days, most Americans own some form of computer — either a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Many own multiple devices. In today’s interconnected world, we’ve become increasingly reliant on the internet, and we tend to connect via Wi-Fi.
For most internet users, Wi-Fi is far more convenient than a wired internet connection — and for some laptops and nearly all mobile devices, it is practically a requirement. But after going through the trouble of setting up a new modem and a router, many internet users do not realize that there are steps they need to take to secure their Wi-Fi connection and protect themselves from identity theft.
Beware an open Wi-Fi connection
If you’ve ever taken a look at some of the nearby Wi-Fi connection points that your computer has access to, you’ve probably noticed that most require a password to access. However, sometimes they don’t. Have you ever connected to a neighbor’s unsecured Wi-Fi? It may not be the best connection, but you are effectively accessing the internet on their dollar.
Obviously, you don’t want anyone to be able to do this to your connection. It’s not just freeloaders you should be worried about, either. If you leave your personal Wi-Fi unprotected, anyone within range can steal your information. The same applies to any public hotspot that does not have a password.
Identity thieves have a number of different techniques at their disposal to take advantage of an open Wi-Fi connection. For instance, with the use of sniffer software, thieves can monitor the traffic traveling to and from a computer on a public network and capture important log-in information. Another known practice is called “sidejacking.” This refers to the practice of discovering an unguarded web session and cloning a user’s account, allowing a thief to do anything the victim can while logged into a particular website.
When thieves gain access to personal information through these or other techniques, they are often uncomfortably close to successfully stealing your identity and costing you thousands of dollars. Luckily, there are many steps you can take to prevent this.
Stay alert — and stay protected
It is important to use a strong password for your home Wi-Fi. But when using public Wi-Fi while on the go, there are additional steps you must take. Be sure to check that your firewall is turned on and that you have adequate malware protection. Disable the setting that allows your computer or mobile device to automatically connect to a network, and make sure that the network you do want to connect to is real. Sometimes, hackers create false network to lull users into revealing private data.
Finally, be aware of the types of devices you are using. According to a 2013 Javelin Identity Fraud Report, tablet users were 80 percent more likely to be victims of identity theft. If you choose to use a tablet, you may need to take additional precautions.
In general, it is best to keep a close eye on your credit in case thieves get through your online defenses. For the best protection, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service that can alert you to certain activity on your credit file that may be indicative of fraud.