Monday, February 18, 2008

Don't Broadcast Your Personal Information

You can’t miss all the hype from companies like Cincinnati Bell and others bragging that that they have installed hundreds of WiFi “hot spots” throughout the area. A “hot spot” is a location from which you can access the Internet wirelessly with your laptop computer or other WiFi-enabled device like a Palm Pilot®, cell phone or even a wireless gaming device. In the Harrison area you can find public WiFi spots at the Speedway gas station and The Public Library. These are Cincinnati Bell sponsored locations. There are many others. Time Warner Road Runner in cooperation with "Project Lilypad" is installing free WiFi at CVG making it one of the few airports in the nation with free WiFi service.

While there is great convenience to being able to sit in a coffee shop, or even under a tree in a park, and conduct personal or work-related business using your computer, there are a few things to keep in mind. For example, many of us do much or all of our banking on line. This requires the use of passwords, user names, Social Security numbers and other very personal information. Now I am sure that if you were in a crowded restaurant you would not shout out, for all to hear, your Social Security number or ATM password. Well, if you are logged on line at a public WiFi location that is potentially what you are doing.

Remember that WiFi systems "broadcast" the information though the air and any computer close by, with the right software, can intercept that information. Because these public WiFi locations are used by many people they can’t be secured with encryption systems like we use in many of our offices and businesses. For sure the guy with dark glasses and a trench coat in the next booth at Market Street Grill is most likely not spying on you. But, he could be.

So the rule of thumb is to keep your private communication via computer private. Do it at home or only on systems that you know are private. Speaking of home, many of us have WiFi systems in our homes. If you live out in the country most likely you don’t need to worry about your neighbor signing on to your system. In the city, where houses are closer together, or in condo units separated by only thin walls, your WiFi can easily be used by the guy next store. If you don’t care if he is “freeloading” on your Internet connection and can eavesdrop on your communication, you need do nothing. If you might have a problem with that, you can encrypt your system. This will allow only you and those you authorize to use the connection. You will find instructions on how to do that in the manual that came with the WiFi router. It should be in that junk drawer someplace.

To be sure the wireless revolution is tremendously convenient. Cell phones, Blackberries® and cordless home phones are great tools. Just remember that anything you send or say on these devices is broadcast for all to read and/or hear.

Well, I promised to keep you up to speed on the availability of the DTV set top converter boxes. At this writing (Feb. 9) I have yet to see one in a store but I do have one. I got one from my contacts in Washington and am told that within a month or so they will be in most major electronics retailers. So it is a safe bet that you can send for your coupons from Uncle Sam. You can do it on line or by phone. The web address is ; the phone number is 888-388-2009.

I have the Zenith/LG model and it is a very nice unit with lots of easy to use functions. I plan to review the various brands and models as they become available in local stores. Look for the reviews in future columns.

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