BBB warns of Wi-Fi scams at airports

By Maria-Jose Subiria


Hackers are currently taking advantage of airport passengers, who want to stay electronically connected to the rest of the world.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia, Inc., warns that airport passengers should be aware of fake Wi-Fi connections created for the purpose of stealing personal information. That personal information can then be used to make fraudulent purchases at the unwitting passenger's expense.

There have been no complaints yet from passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but travelers need to be vigilant, said Dottie Callina, a spokeswoman for the local better business bureau.

"While the user is online, the hacker is stealing information, like passwords, credit card and bank account numbers and social security numbers from the user's laptop computer," said Callina, in a prepared statement. "Airports across the nation continue to report Wi-Fi security issues."

Callina said hackers have set up fake Wi-Fi connections at various locations, but airports seem to be popular areas. Passengers may see a network connection entitled, "Free Wi-Fi," which should raise red flags, she said. It could be an ad hoc network, which does not rely on pre-existing infrastructure, or a "peer-to-peer connection," she said.

"The user will be able to surf the Internet, but they are doing it through the hacker's computer," said Callina.

There are several ways travelers can protect themselves from being victims, she added. Passengers should only connect to a secure Wi-Fi service, preferably one they have dealt with before or know of its reputation.

Never connect to an ad hoc network, unless you know the person who has created it, and the same person has invited you to join, according to Callina.

According to Hartsfield-Jackson's web site -- www.atlanta-airport.com -- the connection at Atlanta's airport is entitled, "ATL-WIFI," and is available at a cost.

The steps necessary to access the Wi-Fi network include launching a browser, selecting a wireless carrier, and purchasing a day pass, or subscription. The wireless carriers include: Boingo Wireless, Advanced Wireless Group, LLC., and AccessAnyplace.

"Never connect to an unfamiliar wireless network -- even if the name sounds genuine," said Callina. "A hacker can change the name of his [or her] network to anything he [or she] wants, including the name of the legitimate Internet connection offered by the airport.

"Make sure that your computer is not set up to automatically connect to any wireless networks within your range," added Callina. "Otherwise, your computer could automatically connect to the hacker's network without your knowledge."

Disabling automatic connections is another form of protection from cyber hackers, she said. Here is how to do that:

According to About.com's web site -- www.about.com -- a laptop running on Windows XP should click on "Start" and then "Control Panel" on the default Windows XP Start menu.

Users should then double click on the "Network Connections" icon, where several connection options will be listed, then right click on the "Wireless Network Connection" icon, choose "Properties" and select the "Wireless Networks" tab.

If the "Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings" is checked, then under "Preferred networks," highlight the name of the desired network for use, and click "Advanced." Click the "Access point (infrastructure) networks only" in the "Advanced" dialogue box. Finally, remove the check mark from "Automatically connect to non-preferred networks," and then click "Close" and "OK."

According to Apple's web site -- www.apple.com -- MAC OS X users should generally choose "System Preferences" from the Apple menu. Click on "Network" and choose the modem, or other dial-up device from "Show" pop-up menu. Click the "PPP" tab and then click on "PPP Options." Deselect the "Connect automatically when starting TCP/IP applications" option, click "OK" and then click "Save."

Another form of protection is disabling file sharing from a laptop, she said.

According to avinashTech's web site -- www.avinashtech.com -- Window users can turn off file sharing by going to the "Control" panel, clicking on "Network Connections," and then "Local area connection properties." Finally, deselect the file sharing option.

According to Apple's web site, Mac OS X users should go to the Apple menu, click System Preferences and click on "Sharing." Deselecting "Share files and folders using AFP," "Share files and folders using FTP" and "Share files and folders using SMB," should do the trick.

This "prevents hackers from stealing sensitive data from your computer," Callina explained.

Callina also recommended that passengers create a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which prevents hackers from intercepting data. Individuals should look at their software manual, or type "Virtual Private Network" under the "Help" tab, for set up. For questions or more information, contact a corresponding software provider, she said.