Wireless fraud rising in Florida

Thieves use unsecured Wi-Fi networks to steal identities, commit sex crimes

MIAMI - Wireless internet fraud is rising in Florida, and thieves are using the internet connections from unsuspecting customers to steal identities and commit sex crimes.

According to Wi-Fi Alliance, Florida is second only to California in internet crime.

Using unsecured Wi-Fi networks is risky business that can lead to identity theft and credit fraud. But failing to secure your home wireless network could jeopardize your fourth amendment rights, the rights that are critical for your personal privacy because they protect you from unreasonable government searches and seizures.

"If you leave your Wi-Fi open, it's basically leaving your door open for a burglar to walk right in," Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent David Castro told Local 10 Crime Specialist John Turchin during a ride-along. "You're leaving yourself with no defense, no protection against them being able to get in."

When you visit your local library to do online research or surf the net, the last thing you're likely to be worried about is becoming a victim of WI-FI crime. But that false sense of security could end up compromising your online privacy.

The fact is, even though it might feel safe, your library's public Wi-Fi network isn't any more secure than those at hotels, coffee shops or airports. They are all hotbeds for hackers who can easily access your sensitive information and commit a wide variety of financial and sexual crimes.

"Once they're connected, they have access to the entire internet -- and they basically have access to it under your name," said Castro. "Some of the things they use it for is downloading child porn, trading in child pornography, or child exploitation, identity theft."

Here are a few suggestions on protecting your Wi-Fi network from thieves:

  • Create a secure password for your WPA or WPA2 router that's darned near impossible to guess. That means one with between 8 and 20 letters (upper and lower case), as well as some numbers and punctuation. Avoid using dictionary words, proper names, common phrases and consecutive numbers. Change your password often.
  • Make sure your firewall is turned on and your antivirus software is up to date. Do frequent scans.
  • Disable file sharing.
  • Change the SSID (service set identifier or network name). This won't have any effect on your network security, but a default setting could tip off hackers that your network password may also not be secure.
  • Turn off your wireless connection when you know you won't be using it.
  • Use a virtual private network solution like private Wi-Fi. VPNS protect the data traveling to and from your computer by making it invisible to intruders – no matter what side of the law they're on.

Should Wi-Fi users be legally responsible for crimes committed on their unsecured wireless networks? Let us know in the comments below.

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