02/11/2011 11:09 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

FTC Warns About Public Wi-Fi Hotspot Dangers

The website, operated by the Federal Trade Commission, Justice Department, Homeland Security, Commerce Department and other federal agencies, is warning people to be careful when using public Wi-Fi hotspots. The agency says users on public Wi-Fi hotspots should "only log in to sites that are fully encrypted." Encrypted sites have an https at the beginning of their address and typically have a lock in the lower right corner of the browser.

The government agencies say hotspots that don't require a password are not secure and suggests you only use hotspots with WPA (not WEP) encryption. The Wi-Fi Alliance recommends that you use WPA-2 if you have the option.

The agency also offers the following advice:

• Don't stay permanently signed in to accounts. When you've finished using an account, log out.

• Do not use the same password on different websites. It could give someone who gains access to one of your accounts access to many of your accounts.

• Many Web browsers alert users who try to visit fraudulent Web sites or download malicious programs. Pay attention to these warnings, and take the extra minute or so to keep your browser and security software up to date.

• If you regularly access online accounts through Wi-Fi hotspots, use a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt traffic between your computer and the Internet, even on unsecured networks.

I'm not sure many people will follow all of the agencies' suggestions, but I recommend that you turn off file sharing on your computer if you're on a public Wi-Fi network.

For more, check out the FTC's tips for using public Wi-Fi.

This post also appears on