Friday, February 22, 2008

Wi-Fi: A word to the wise

I saw something at the airport the other day very telling about progress. While waiting to board a flight, I noticed what used to be a kiosk for the long-gone pay phone has been replaced by power outlets for laptops. There was a power cord connected to a laptop in every one of them; one has to be careful walking around departure lounges these days for fear of tripping over them.

Laptops are a pretty common sight from airports to coffee shops. I’ll be the first to admit I’m on my laptop a lot when I travel. Most of the time there is more work than hours available and I can’t afford to simply sit and relax. Besides, taking care of e-mails while I’m away avoids having a big pile of them in my inbox when I return to the office.

Plus, it looks good to be working on a computer when you’re the Video Professor!

Fellow road warriors use wireless cards from providers like Verizon Wireless and many other companies. It’s a good way to go; however, many of you take advantage of the free Wi-Fi available at various locations. Many businesses, like coffee shops advertise free Wi-Fi to attract customers who like to sip and surf at the same time.

I just read a very interesting story called “Hidden dangers of free public WiFi” by Corey O’Donnell in ZDNet News. He writes, “Research shows that free wireless public networks located in airports and other public places are ripe for exploitation by hackers.”

Many folks naturally choose a free service simply because it’s free. When you log on in public places like airports or coffee shops you assume that everything is safe. However, by doing so, you may unwittingly end up sending everything from your computer to a hacker’s computer. It’s quite amazing how easily they can steal your identity.

O’Donnell says it’s all very simple. “Users who connect to these ‘free’ networks are at great risk of experiencing a ‘channeling’ attack. ‘Channeling’ is a common practice used by hackers and identity thieves to conduct man-in-the-middle attacks, with the objective of stealing user names, passwords and other sensitive data transmitted by the user. The practice is disturbingly simple to carry out: by setting up an unauthorized access point in an airport lounge, hackers can easily trap passwords and other information without the user's knowledge.”

So if you’re using free Wi-Fi in public locations, know that what you communicate, from passwords, to credit card data and other personal information can be hijacked. While, the person sitting nearby looks like they are simply enjoying their cup of coffee they may indeed be trying to pick the electronic equivalent of your wallet!

One final thought about protecting yourself online. The Video Professor team got to work closely with author and cyber-crime expert Jayne Hitchcock on our new Protect Yourself Online tutorial. Much of the material is based on her book, “Net Crimes and Misdemeanors.” One point we make is you’re far more at risk for identity theft offline, usually from someone you know or work with. Online activity is actually safer. That said; always double check and protect your safety online and offline. In this very modern world of instant communication it’s best to remember the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

By the way, I wonder what they did with all those pay phones? I’ll bet a few ended up at the Smithsonian. Just like the Apple® iPhone will be someday. In the meantime check out our Digital Devices Made Easy or Protect Yourself Online tutorials to help you out with it all, and rest assured when the next generation of modern gadgets comes along, the Video Professor team will have a tutorial for that too!

Until then, I’m going find an outlet where that pay phone used to be. I’ve got work to do.


John W. Scherer

(CEO and Founder of Video Professor, Inc.)

You can read more about him at

Read Corey O’Donnell’s article at