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September 29, 2023

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With Wi-Fi, losing data to Web theft becomes easier

Wireless Internet has opened doors for unlimited, uninhibited information sharing anytime, anywhere.

But with new technology advances come new dangers.

Wireless networks that have not been safely set up are more susceptible to hacking because information travels in the air between the router and the computer. Computers with a direct wire to the Internet are less accessible by outsiders.

Being aware of the risks of wireless networking is critical, said Toby Singer, executive director of Information Technology Services.

One way to help secure an at-home network is to change the default safety settings on the computer that is being connected to the network.

“Read the documentation and enable the security settings,” said Thomas Roberts, security analyst for Information Technology Services.

Default settings are the original settings on a computer, and they must be configured and kept up to date. Virus protection, security patches and firewalls should be installed, run and updated regularly, said Cindy Fuller, communications coordinator for the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Another way to secure a wireless network is to encode the system. This is when a password is used so only the individuals who know the password are able to get onto the wireless network.

“If you have your wireless network encoded then it should be safe,” said Pat McCauley, government affairs official for Time Warner Cable.

Students’ Internet service provider can help set up a wireless encryption. The ISP’s customer service can walk people through the encryption process.

Feeding off of someone else’s wireless network, whether or not it is encrypted, is legal. What is not legal is when a person hacks into a computer to take someone’s information, McCauley said.

“If someone parks outside and uses your wireless, it’s not illegal, it’s your fault – until the act of hacking takes place,” McCauley said.

Some students are already aware encrypting wireless networks can keep hackers from breaking into files and stop freeloaders from stealing wireless signals.

“It’s the first thing we did when we got our router. It just makes you feel better knowing other people can’t get onto your network,” said Matt Bruner, junior.

The people who connect to unencrypted networks may think they are getting a good deal on free Internet, but the risks involved in connecting to an open network may outweigh the rewards.

Everyone logged onto a network has easier access to one another’s information than if each computer had a wire connected it to the Internet.

“It can be an open game, like the wild west,” Singer said.

Each user on a network should change personal passwords every few months, and remove their cookies, which are ID tags placed on a computer Web sites that are visited by the user. They are like footprints showing where a user has been online. Emptying these cookies can stop hackers from finding Web sites that a user has been visiting and has left personal information on, such as an online bill payment site.

At home, safety settings can be more easily controlled by users than when they hook up to an outside source, like a city-wide wireless network, or at a restaurant that offers wireless access.

When a user wants to connect to a large wireless network, they should ask whomever set up the network what security and privacy settings are enabled for customers. Paying bills or sending out personal information while on a large wireless network is not recommended, Singer said.

While all these steps can help to improve safety when setting up a wireless network, it must be noted that none of these methods are 100 percent safe.

Knowing the risks of wireless and being aware that a system is not invincible is the first step towards security and can make the difference between smooth sailing on the sea of wireless, or identity theft.

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