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FCC Consumer Tip Sheet, Wi-Fi Networks and Consumer Privacy

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Released: April 17, 2012

FCC Consumer Tip Sheet

Wi-Fi Networks and Consumer Privacy


Background

Wi-Fi networks are powerful, valuable tools in our modern communications and information society,
enabling users to connect wirelessly to the Internet by extending broadband service in your own home,
or by connecting to “hot spots” in public spaces, like airports, coffee shops, and hotels. In using these
networks, however, it is important to understand that information being transmitted over them can
potentially be intercepted if the networks are not secure. Consumers should be aware of whether they
are using a secure (encrypted) or unsecure (unencrypted) network, and should be especially cautious
about using unsecured networks – whether those networks are in their homes or in public spaces – to
send sensitive information.

How do I secure my personal Wi-Fi network?

Protect your sensitive information

:
o Turn on encryption: Encrypted information is encoded information that cannot be easily
deciphered if intercepted. Today, encrypting information transmitted on your Wi-Fi network is
as easy as activating the encryption feature on your wireless router. Check the instructions that
came with your router for information on how to do so. If your computer and router will
support it, WPA2 is the most effective encryption standard for Wi-Fi.

Prevent others from accessing your network

:
o Activate the router firewall: Both in the actual and virtual world, a firewall is a barrier intended
to confine or restrict a hazard. As with encryption, constructing a firewall on your Wi-Fi network
is as simple as activating that feature on your wireless router.
o Change the router default password: The password for your router is the key to administering
device settings on your router. Many wireless routers come with default passwords that others
may know or be able to figure out easily. Change the password to your router to a unique
combination of letter, numbers, and symbols that only you know in order to ensure that you will
be the only one who holds the keys to your router.

What about public Wi-Fi networks?

Since consumers do not themselves administer public Wi-Fi networks, they have much less control over
the security of the information transmitted. For that reason, consumers are at risk when they transmit
sensitive information – such as credit card numbers and passwords – over public Wi-Fi networks
. If you
happen to use a public Wi-Fi network, remember the following additional tips.

Only log in or send personal data to fully encrypted sites

:
o To determine if a website is encrypted, look for https at the beginning of a site’s web address
(the “s” is for “secure”) and a lock icon at the bottom or top of your browser window. Make
sure that https appears the entire time you’re logged in -- some sites use encryption only for the
sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, you could be at risk.

Turn on your personal firewall:

o Many computers come with operating systems (e.g., Windows 7) that have a built-in firewall
that’s turned on by default. You can configure the firewall to provide better protection when
you’re using a public Wi-Fi network.

Turn off your wireless network when you’re not using it:

o If you’re in a public Wi-Fi area but not using the Internet, disable your wireless connection by
either removing your external Wi-Fi card or clicking on your internal Wi-Fi connection.

Use an encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Network) from your computing device

o VPNs are often used by businesses and organizations to afford a safe and secure mechanism for
mobile travelers to communicate. VPN software provides an encrypted pathway allowing an
end user to connect to a business or organizational enterprise network.

For More Information

For information about other Wi-Fi issues, visit onguardonline.gov. You can also contact the FCC’s
Consumer Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY;
fax to 1-866-418-0232; or write to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554
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