WiFi is convenient, but could bring criminals into your life

By Matthew Nordin - bio | email

MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - Everywhere you go, from the coffee shop to the bookstore, everybody's offering you free WiFi access.

But a WMBF News investigation has found logging on wirelessly can put everything you do online at risk. It cost a Grand Strand woman thousands of dollars.

"I saw where there was a draft from my savings account and moved to my business account," said Sandy Brown, a WMBF News advertising executive.

Unfortunately someone didn't just move her money around, they also transferred it into their account - $5,000 was suddenly gone.

A thief had hacked into her online bank account.

Brown immediately thought back to a weekend trip in North Carolina. She'd used free Wi-Fi access at a coffee shop.

"That was kind of the first thing that I thought about was, was it because of the wireless?" she said in the security of her home in Murrells Inlet.

We brought along Brian Parnell, a computer expert who owns the Mac Guy shop in Garden City, to see if he could help Brown make her online life more secure.

"Is (using wireless in a public place) exposing yourself there?" Brown asked him.

"Anytime you're in a wireless system, you're kind of in there along with anyone else in the system that's good, bad or otherwise," Parnell told her. "And public spots in some ways are kind of like African watering holes. It's a great place for predators to hang-out."

He recommends if you're going to use WiFi in a public place that you protect yourself with a firewall, don't linger too long online, and try to visit encrypted websites.

Meanwhile, Brown is going through the emotions of a crime victim because she is one.

"You're shocked to think if they did that what else can they do? What else did they see? What else do they know?" she said.

Parnell says you can easily encrypt your WiFi connection at home to make it harder for criminals to hack into your system. It's just a matter of selecting the right settings on the software that came with your WiFi program.

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