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Harvard Net Admin: Don't Do Banking From Starbucks

The head of Harvard University's network operations told state legislators last week that electronic eavesdroppers currently have the upper hand in the battle to secure wireless Internet networks, the Associated Press reported.

"It's extremely convenient, but it's inherently insecure," Harvard's Jay Tumas said last week at a session on WiFi risks at a National Conference of State Legislatures. "If you don't protect your network, then public Wi-Fi is just one big security risk."

David LaPorte, another Harvard computer security expert, had this suggestion: "Be scared.... Don't do your banking from Starbucks."

Harvard is currently partnering with the town of Cambridge, MA,  and network provider BBN to build a network attached to various types of sensors, such as those that monitor weather and pollution. The partners also plan to use the network to provide municipal WiFi to local residents.

Even so, Tumas advised avoiding wireless access for most uses "unless you absolutely have to," and not using wireless at all to transmit sensitive data.  To improve security, Tumas suggested using passwords with more than a dozen characters, as well as a variety of symbols and numbers in upper and lower cases.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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