The hottest places in Santa Monica? You might think some of the new restaurants or bars. However, the hottest places are the new library, the Third Street Promenade and Virginia Avenue Park. These “hot zones” – zones or places that provide free Wi-Fi access – are stirring up some new controversy.
Picture this. You are sitting outside, feet up, sipping on a latte, checking email. An email from your sister reminds you, “Mom’s birthday is in two days.” With no time to shop, you jump online to order something. You hit “purchase.” You notice another email, this one from PayPal. Something is wrong with your account. To nip it in the bud, you click on the link in the email (instead of going directly to PayPal.com to review your account) and provide the requested credit card information, and maybe even your address, PIN codes, passwords, mother’s maiden name and possibly your social security number.
The reason not to check bank accounts, your email or order online while at a public Wi-Fi is that the networks are not secure. Imagine an Evil Twin, pharming and keystroke logging. (And no, even though your sister is better at remembering your mom’s birthday, and always points that out to you, does not make her your evil twin.) An evil twin is a look-alike, but false, Internet hotspot. Pharming is a term that describes cybermobsters trying to trick you into giving them your data. Malicious computer codes steer you to the cyberthieves’ look-alike sites – without you being able to tell. And all the data you just entered? That’s where keystroke logging comes in. A special software (planted onto your computer via a virus, spam or pop-ups) records each keystroke you type and sends it to the identity thief, using the same software marketers use to study people’s Internet surfing patterns.
If this is the first you have heard about all of this, you are not alone. Harris Interactive’s survey on wireless Internet security shows the majority of consumers (74 percent) are not concerned about protecting themselves at public Wi-Fi hotspots. This is in part because, as with any new technology, there is a technology jargon barrier. Terms that emanate from the technology world, used to describe how identity theft happens, like evil twins or pharming, don’t mean much to the everyday person.
Identity theft, a crime completely understood by geeks, has only recently been recognized by the Federal Trade Commission as a crime more lucrative than illegal drug trafficking. Cyberthieves have realized it is easier to steal your identity than hit you over the head and steal your purse or wallet. In 2004, the FBI took down a site, shadowcrew.com. It was an online trading bazaar, where the cyberthieves bought and sold other people’s data – social security numbers, passwords, credit card information. The FBI arrested a global crime ring of 28 cybermobster suspects that had amassed two terabytes of other people’s data.
For those who have their identities stolen, research shows that victims of identify theft spend up to 600 hours (15 weeks of full-time work) and thousands of dollars cleaning up a mess they didn’t create. The real tragedy for victims is years of emotional stress trying to clear their names, while at the same time being denied loans for cars, homes or school because their credit rating has been destroyed. It is not a matter of just calling the credit card company and saying it was not you. You have to prove it, which starts with filing a police report.
So, if you want to surf on a public Wi-Fi, here are a few tips to protect yourself:
1. Update all your firewalls and anti-spyware programs. Keystroke logging programs can be sent via spyware. (kaspersky.com)
2. Use a non-keyboard process that encrypts your personal passwords and user names when logging into Internet sites. (guardidsystems.com)
3. Invest in an information monitoring system that monitors and alerts you when there is something suspicious with your accounts, and provides an identity theft recover insurance and recovery advocate (intelius.com).
4. Don’t click on links sent in emails that ask you to log onto a site and update sensitive information. Go directly to the Internet and type in the website URL.
For more information on protecting yourself against identity theft, go to drnatthetechnocat.com.