Wi-Fi can open your life to the world

PASADENA, Calif. — No one in the evening crowd at a Starbucks here knew Humphrey Cheung. But Cheung, working on his laptop, knew things about them.

Several tables away was a guy sitting alone with his own laptop.

“He’s starting a business,” Cheung said.
And the young couple in the far corner?

“They’re getting married,” he confided.

Cheung isn’t psychic. He had hacked into the coffee shop’s wireless Internet connection on his Toshiba laptop. It took about five minutes to do so, using free software available online.

Public Wi-Fi, or “wireless fidelity,” is very handy for perusing the Internet away from the office or home. Just remember that you may have company while surfing.

Once hooked into the system, Cheung was able to monitor the online activity of other laptops in the shop. Luckily for the people around him, he wasn’t snooping for any reason except to make a point: As wireless hot spots proliferate, the tools for secretly monitoring these Internet connections are becoming more sophisticated.

“When people are on a public wireless connection, they have the same expectations about privacy as when they are on the Internet at home,” said Cheung, 32, a computer security expert and an editor for TG Daily, a technology news Web site.

“But it doesn’t work that way. Someone could be listening in.”
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