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Protect yourself from identity theft on public WiFi

Emily Valla: BBB Alert
Emily Valla: BBB Alert

As National Cyber Security Awareness Month continues, we look at one piece of advice the Better Business Bureau often recommends. To secure your identity, BBB says to regularly check your credit and your financial accounts. But there’s always a caveat: Do so from secure WiFi, not a public connection.

If you’re on a mobile data plan, that unlocked WiFi symbol can be so attractive. If you’re traveling or working remotely, free Internet access seems ideal. But don’t connect just yet.

What exactly is the problem with public WiFi? For that, we turned to the National Cyber Security Alliance.

“You might think cybercriminals would need expensive equipment or expert programming skills to monitor WiFi traffic, but they don’t,” writes Jared Howe at “All they need is simple, free, readily available software and a desire to steal your data.”

In a survey conducted by the Identity Theft Resource Center, 79 percent of respondents believe using public WiFi can lead to identity theft, he writes.

The BBB recommends the following tips when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks:

▪  Never connect to an unfamiliar ad-hoc network — even if the name sounds genuine. A hacker can change the name of his network to anything he wants, including the name of the legitimate Internet connection offered by the airport. Just because it has the same name as the Wi-Fi advertised in the airport or hotel, don’t believe it.

▪  Make sure that your computer, smartphone or tablet is not set up to automatically connect to nonpreferred networks. Likewise, if you use your mobile device as a hotspot, ensure that your connection is password-protected.

▪  Turn off file sharing when you are on the road to prevent hackers from stealing sensitive data from your computer.

▪  Make sure your firewall is enabled. A firewall helps protect your computer from unauthorized users gaining access by way of the Internet. This can help decrease the likelihood of scammers installing viruses on your device. Also, make sure to download system updates, as they often come with security fixes.

▪  If you do connect to public WiFi, skip websites that include sensitive information. To be safe, avoid online banking, shopping and email on public connections.

Financial activity is one of the key activities hackers are looking for. Save that for home or your mobile device’s network.

Emily Valla,, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to or call (208) 342-4649.

Free shredding Saturday, Oct. 15

Reminder: Saturday, Oct. 15, is the Better Business Bureau’s free shred event. Come to Secure Your ID Day from 10 a.m. to noon at the College of Western Idaho’s Micron Building, 5725 E Franklin Road, Nampa. Bring up to three boxes of papers to shred and old electronics to recycle. See you there.