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In recognition of January 28, 2011, Data Privacy Day, Attorney General William H. Sorrell today warned Vermont residents to protect their personal and communications data by encrypting their own wireless Internet networks.  The Attorney General’s warning stems from his office’s participation in an investigation into Google’s collection of unencrypted data from consumers’ home networks.

 “Google’s collection of payload data demonstrates that someone can easily snoop on your Internet activity,” Attorney General Sorrell said.  “Consumers should know that the wireless routers they purchase from the store are not automatically encrypted, and they need to activate the encryption feature to ensure greater protection.”
In May of this year, Google announced that it had been collecting unencrypted payload data over wireless networks.  Google’s Street View vehicles, which photograph homes, buildings, streets, and other landmarks, also were equipped to capture data from the homes they were passing by and that was being transmitted over unencrypted networks..  Payload data can include user emails, passwords, and browsing activity.  The Attorney General and other states are continuing to investigate Google’s collection of this data.  

Manufacturers often deliver wireless routers with the encryption feature turned off.  To turn encryption on, consumers should consult the instructions that accompany their wireless router, or visit the router manufacturer’s website.  When selecting the level of encryption, consumers should keep in mind that Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption is more effective than Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption.  WPA, either WPA2 or WPA-Personal, should protect against most hackers.  WEP should protect wireless networks against accidental intrusions by neighbors or attacks by less-sophisticated hackers. If the only choice is WEP encryption, it should be set to the highest security level available.

OnGuard Online, a consortium of federal government agencies and technology industry experts, recommends additional precautionary steps to secure your wireless network and ensure safe web browsing. The steps below are adapted from OnGuard Online’s list, which is available in full at:   

  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall.  Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software, keep them up-to-date, and check to ensure that your firewall is turned on.
  • Turn off identifier broadcasting. Most wireless routers broadcast a signal to any device in the vicinity announcing their presence. You don’t need to broadcast this information if the person using the network already knows it is there. Disable the identifier broadcasting mechanism if your wireless router allows it.
  • Change the identifier on your router from the default. The identifier (SSID) for your router is likely to be a standard, default ID assigned by the manufacturer to all hardware of that model. Change your identifier to something only you know, and remember to configure the same unique ID into your wireless router and your computer so they can communicate.  
  • Change your router’s pre-set password for administration. The manufacturer assigned the router a standard default password. Those default passwords are available to anyone, including hackers, so change it to something only you know. When choosing a password, make sure to choose one of sufficient length and complexity to prevent it from being cracked.     
  • Turn off your wireless network when you know you won’t use it. If you turn the router off when you’re not using it, you limit the amount of time that it is susceptible to a hack.
  • Don’t assume that public “hot spots” are secure. Café, hotel, and airport “hot spots” are convenient, but they are not secure.
  • Be careful about the information you access or send from a public wireless network. You should assume that other people can see anything you see or send over a public wireless network.

Data Privacy Day, internationally recognized on January 28, brings necessary awareness to an individual’s right to protect his or her most sensitive and personal data.  The day brings together businesses, individuals, government agencies, non-profit groups, and academics in a dialogue about the how personal data is collected, used, and stored.  

More information on Vermonter’s Privacy and Data Security is available on the Attorney General's website

Take steps to take to protect your personal data from internet snoops.

Last modified January 28 2011 05:09 AM

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