Unsecured wireless networks can allow neighbors
or hackers access your private information
on your computer.
R ecent security flaws discovered in many e-commerce web sites was a wake-up call for many who shop and bank online.
Though that problem has been largely patched, using weak passwords to access your online accounts could make it easy for a crook to steal your online identity and accounts.
Experts say that those who rely on the a few passwords and user names for many accounts could be more vulnerable to hackers who use "brute force" attacks to crack online accounts.
Using a unique and strong username and password for each account is good protection from hackers, who look for easy-to-crack passwords, particularly words that appear in a dictionary in any language.
A man who used a bit of obscure Scottish slang for his password saw his e-mail account hijacked. All his friends received pleas from his account asking them to send money overseas.
Armed with ever more-powerful computers, hackers try to crack passwords by using automated "dictionary attacks", which involves trying one password after another until the program hits on the correct one.
Those who use the same log-in and password on multiple sites can be particularly affected, according to a 2012 article on the technology web site, Ars Technica.
“'The average Web user maintains 25 separate accounts but uses just 6.5 passwords to protect them, according to a landmark study from 2007. As the ... breach demonstrated, such password reuse, combined with the frequent use of e-mail addresses as user names, means that once hackers have plucked login credentials from one site, they often have the means to compromise dozens of other accounts, too."
Some E-commerce sites, such as those operated by banks and credit card companies, have responded to the threat by requiring users to answer security questions when the site detects the customer using an unfamiliar computer, or trying access from an unfamiliar location.
Home wireless networks are also vulnerable to infiltration from outsiders if not properly protected. But doing that is relatively simple.
The hub of a home wireless network is a router, a device that connects multiple computers or devices to the Internet.
Wireless routers broadcast and receive radio waves carrying data between your Internet provider and Internet-enabled devices, such as computers, gaming consoles and phones.
But unless precautions are taken, information that you share on your network can be vulnerable to hackers.
Hackers, whether they are teen-agers looking for a free connection, or thieves trying to steal personal information, troll neighborhoods, searching for unsecured networks.
The good news is that they have to be fairly close to your home to sneak in.
They use hacking tools available on the Internet that repeatedly try to crack passwords on password-protected networks. It's much easier to break into routers encrypted with the older Wireless Encryption Protocol, or WEP.
These hackers don't have to be master criminals. They can be your neighbors' children using "cracking" software that are available on the Internet, or professional thieves looking to scroll through the shared folders on your home network.
Fortunately, it's relatively simple to make your wireless network more resistant to hacking.
-Use strong encryption. The WPA-2 standard.
- Choose a strong network password. Choose one that doesn't appear in any dictionary in any language and is at least 9 characters long.
This will deter hackers who use brute force to crack your password.
Experts say long, non-obvious passwords, such as “MyFaV0r1+eIceCre_aMisCh0colate” are easy to remember and difficult to crack by brute force.
Use similar rules when choosing passwords and user for online accounts.
- To avoid password overload, consider using a password locker to keep track of your passwords. Use a strong password to protect the others. Store a password-protected
copy of the locker online.
- Change the default password to your wireless router settings. Instruction on how to do this are online at the manufacturer’s web site.
- Set up a “Guest Password” on your router for use by children and guests. This gives them wireless access, while keeping your sensitive files secure.
- When using public or open wireless networks, be wary doing banking or other commercial activity while using open wireless networks in restaurants, and other public places unless your computer is configured for a virtual private network.
Information sent through these unsecured hotspots can be intercepted.