You can access the Internet in many places these days. Restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and other businesses all offer wireless connections, hoping you'll camp out with your laptop and spend your money. But you should be careful when using free Internet connections, because you don't know if they're secure. • The Better Business Bureau says WiFi hotspots are breeding grounds for hackers, so be careful. The Federal Trade Commission offers tips on how to protect yourself. The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
• When using a WiFi hotspot, only log in or send personal information to websites that you know are fully encrypted. The entire visit to each site should be encrypted from log in until log out. If you think you're logged in to an encrypted site but find yourself on an unencrypted page, log out right away.
• Don't stay permanently signed in to accounts. After using an account, log out.
• Do not use the same password on different websites. It could give someone who gains access to one account access to many accounts.
• Many suggestions are common sense, such as not leaving your computer unattended while you refill your coffee, and not staying logged in for extended periods of time while you're not online.
• A key thing to look for is whether you need a password to log in. If you don't, that means the network isn't secure, the BBB says.
• Hotspots can provide good opportunities for catching up on the news and playing around online, but be careful using them to do banking and financial transactions. I prefer to do that at my home, where I have an encrypted, password protected network and I know there's no one looking over my shoulder.
• If you must do sensitive work online using a network you're not familiar with, protect yourself by changing your account passwords as soon as you can afterward.