Personal information at risk when connecting over free wi-fi

Personal information at risk when connecting over free wi-fi

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Internet security experts say logging on to an open network can be like sharing your personal information with a room of strangers. Internet security experts say logging on to an open network can be like sharing your personal information with a room of strangers.
"You're privacy isn't necessarily as private as you think it is over open wireless," said Juan Overstreet, CFO of Integracon. "You're privacy isn't necessarily as private as you think it is over open wireless," said Juan Overstreet, CFO of Integracon.
Juan Overstreet, CFO of Integracon, was able to view what reporter Alexis Zotos was viewing, but not everything. Juan Overstreet, CFO of Integracon, was able to view what reporter Alexis Zotos was viewing, but not everything.
Juan Overstreet found half a dozen people connecting over the same network. They're seemingly innocent things but they could lead a hacker to other information. Juan Overstreet found half a dozen people connecting over the same network. They're seemingly innocent things but they could lead a hacker to other information.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - From the airport to hotels and coffee shops, thousands of businesses offer free wi-fi connections. But internet security experts say logging on to an open network can be like sharing your personal information with a room of strangers.

Whether connecting over coffee or using a smartphone in Market Square, most people log on to open wi-fi networks all day long.

"I use it mostly on my computer," said James Ansted, of Knoxville.

While walking through Market Square, Rosemary Dodd said she uses wi-fi regularly.

"Just to check out where something is or when something is, stuff like that," Dodd said.

But many people are unaware that wi-fi isn't secure and it can be easy for hackers to see information.

6 News sat down with an internet security expert to demonstrate just how vulnerable a computer can be over free wi-fi.

"You're privacy isn't necessarily as private as you think it is over open wireless," said Juan Overstreet, CFO of Integracon.

Using a few tools, Overstreet, an internet security expert, can see anyone's activity when is logged on to the same network.

"I can see different machines using different kinds of traffic to connect," he explained.

He was able to locate our computer and take a peek at what we we're doing.

"You were looking at jewelry, I was able to see what items you were browsing through, I am able to see basically what it is you are looking for."

From my screen to his, he could see my shopping visit. But he wasn't able to see everything.

"The lock symbol means the website publisher is using secure to encrypt the information between your computer and their servers," Overstreet explained.

On Facebook and Twitter, there is a lock in the browser bar which means that information is encrypted. But while searching for my info, Overstreet stumbled upon other people's activity.

"Someone doing updates to a website, someone streaming internet radio, reading different news websites," he said.

Overstreet found half a dozen people connecting over the same network. They're seemingly innocent things but they could lead a hacker to other information.

"Sometimes websites where you're filling in survey forms or you're requesting information, the forms themselves aren't encrypted so anything you put in there as a request to help them service you can be accessibly to someone else."

Overstreet suggests steering clear of free wi-fi altogether, using password protected networks if possible. If not, he says be smart about what sites you browse.

"I would say stick to the sites you know and know you're privacy isn't necessarily protected," he said.

Because as most people will tell you, the lure of free wi-fi is often unavoidable.

"We all like to stay connected and you don't want to pay for it so you take that risk," Ansted said.

Tips to protect yourself when connecting to free wi-fi:

  1. Always look for the lock in the browser or ‘https'.  "The key point is that if its encrypted its probably going to have a lock," Overstreet said. "If it doesn't than its probably visible to somebody else."
  2. Before logging on, check with the store or restaurant to ensure you don't fall prey to a hacker's fake hotspot.
  3. Double check to ensure your computer is up to date on virus protection and you follow recommendations on social media sites. "If you're not following the recommendations it's fairly easy to take over someone's session on Facebook.
  4. If you have a VPN (virtual private network) through business, always use that.
  5. Turn on your firewall and make sure you disable sharing.
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