ORLANDO, Fla. - Free Wi-Fi networks are convenient and easy ways to browse the Internet in public at places like coffee shops and restaurants.
But 9 Investigates' Vanessa Welch learned they can also pose serious risks when it comes to securing your personal information.
Hackers can easily intercept sensitive information such as passwords and snoop your accounts for personal identifiers.
Welch set out to show viewers how such breaches can happen and identify the best ways to protect yourself, your credit card and your banking accounts.
Sitting in an Orlando restaurant, Welch watched University of Central Florida student Nathan Dennis use a small electronic device to force people nearby to connect to a Wi-Fi network he controlled.
Later, as Welch shopped online, Dennis could see exactly what she was doing and the websites she was visiting by using a device called a
pineapple and a computer program called Wireshark.
Dennis is a sophomore IT major at UCF and a member of Hack UCF, a group that helps educate people about
He didn’t intercept anyone’s banking information, which is illegal. He just wanted to show how easy it was to access Welch’s cellphone through Wi-Fi.
Dennis told 9 Investigates that what he did is
Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents said the constantly evolving technology used by hackers is the department’s biggest challenge.
He said Internet identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in central Florida.
Elizabeth Prince's Bright House account was hacked. Whoever did it changed her passwords. They also used her Social Security number to apply for credit cards and then charged $50,000 at high-end retailers like Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating, but Prince remains stunned crooks can do so much damage so easily.
“I really don’t know how they hacked into our personal information, but they did and they strike fast,” she said.
If you must use Wi-Fi, Dennis said make sure it's protected.
“It will require a business to give you a password,” he
said. “It’s as good as having a public Wi-Fi, but you are safe.”
FDLE told Welch it’s really up to consumers to protect themselves. If you are using Wi-Fi in a public place, check the drop down menu when you connect to make sure it’s protected.
And if you want to go a step further, you can purchase a
Virtual Private Network, or VPN. VPNs increase security by encrypting all traffic. They can be used on smartphones and laptops.
You can also freeze your credit with the three credit agencies if you don’t need to apply for a loan or other credit cards. Later on, you can unfreeze your account when you need to apply for more credit.