Just Say No: 5 Reasons to Ditch Unsecure Networks

802-11n-Wireless-Router_DIR-600__14193When you’re out and about and need to get on the Internet, it’s tempting to race into the nearest café and use their Wi-Fi; but don’t take the risk and just hope everything will be okay: You’re exposing your activity to potential hackers and other troublemakers. We’ve got five reasons you need to secure your network, pronto.

1.) An Unsecured Wireless Network Could Leave You Taking Responsibility for Someone Else’s Misbehavior

A lot of us are guilty of it: You try to get wireless somewhere but can’t, so you help yourself to someone else’s unprotected network. Beware, though: Some people intentionally do this with harmful goals in mind.

If you leave your connection unsecured and someone within the range of your signal can pick up your Internet, they can participate in or initiate illegal activity; but guess who is going to look responsible for it? That’s right: You! After all, it was your network.

And by now, we’ve learned that even when it’s not intentional, there are still ways for people to pick up on your activity and information. Get those networks password protected and secured, folks!

2.) A Secured Connection Could Mean Faster Internet

Have you ever been in a restaurant that offers password-free Internet and notice that it’s running irritatingly slow?

That’s because too many people are using that signal, and the same thing can happen to you at home, if your connection is unsecured! If you use the recommended WEP password, access will be restricted to only those with the magic word—and your Internet will be a lot more speedy.

3.) Your Identity is Going…Going…Gone!

These days, so many things that we used to do in person or on paper are done online. Take banking, for example. You can deposit, withdraw, and transfer money, which means that your routing number, account number, and Social Security Number are all floating around in your computer.

If, at any point, you use an unsecured Wi-Fi network and work with this information—even just a little bit—anyone else using that network can snatch it. How? Easy! One word: cookies. (And not the tasty kind.)

It doesn’t matter if the information you are accessing is password protected. It doesn’t matter if the site is encrypted. Computer hackers, up to no good, can use the cookies from your accounts and take your personal information without your ever knowing. Guess what they’ll then do with that information? (If you guessed that they’ll pretend to be you, you get a gold star.)

4.) Wireless Broadband is Different…but You Still Need to Protect Yourself

Many people think that wireless broadband and Wi-Fi is the same thing. Even though they are often used together, there is still a difference: Wireless broadband provides Internet to anyone who subscribes to it.

Obviously, questions of security remain. Can people see what you’re doing? Can they steal your information?

In a nutshell, when you’re dealing with the World Wide Web, there will always be risks. There will also always be, however, things you can do to guard yourself. For instance, make sure you’ve enabled wireless security on your computer, which will require any users to provide a key in order to use access your connection. Second, confirm that your computer has a firewall, which prevents unauthorized access.

Finally, install and/or update your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. Don’t ignore your computer when it tells you that you need to update the program and restart your computer; it’s saying that for a reason!

5.) You Might Not Be Totally Innocent if Somebody Else Does Something Bad

Other countries’ governments are starting to crack down on Internet users operating on unsecured networks, saying that if illegal activity happens on it, they’re actually at fault. This means that you’ll no longer be a victim. The United States could potentially be following suit soon, so you better start practicing safe web surfing immediately.

This is a simple case of, “Do the work now so that you won’t have to pay for it later.” No wireless network should go unsecured. Take the necessary steps to protect your information—and yourself—so that any bad guys trying to lurk in your network will pack their bags and go home.

Amy Nielson is an avid blogger who writes often for tech sites. You can follow her on Twitter @NielsonAmy.