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The True Dangers in Your Unsecured Wifi

It’s the easiest thing in the world to leave your Wifi connection unsecured. And who hasn’t given out their password to house guests or even the odd neighbor who needs to get online in a hurry? Word of warning: For one family, that small, innocuous decision led to the FBI surrounding their house early one July morning and banging on their front door.

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Consumers are repeatedly warned by security experts that a stranger could use your unsecured Wifi to read your emails or hack into your Facebook page, attack your computer with a virus — or even lock you out of your own network by inserting their own password. For the Tracys, a family of five in Milford, Mass., it was much worse.

What happened to them was extreme, but it is not unique or unthinkable. They want to warn other families about how child pornographers can prey on your unsecured Wifi, use your Internet connection to traffic in child pornography and implicate you. It could be someone cruising in a car or, in this case, a person who lives on the same street.

At 6am on July 1, 2009, local police and at least half-a-dozen FBI agents banged on their door, poured into their house and accused them of trafficking in child pornography. They interrogated Denise Tracy, her husband and 19-year-old son for three hours. The FBI left with seven computers. They still haven’t received them back.

They lived with the trauma of that day, and the uncertainty of what might happen next. But 16 months later, in November 2010, their neighbor, Robert Diduca, was arrested for allegedly possessing and disseminating child pornography. Diduca lives just three doors away and across the street — close enough to pick up their Wifi signal.

This week, the lead FBI agent in the case told the Tracys that the bureau would finally return their computers, nearly two years later. He apologized for the delay. The agent also called their lawyer, Barry Covert, based in Buffalo, New York, and said that he was sorry for the events of the past.

In the FBI’s first public statement on the Tracys’ case, Damon Katz, chief division counsel for FBI Boston, told Pay Dirt, “We believe that the Tracys are innocent. We believe that they were innocent victims of a wireless trespasser. All of us have families and we understand that it must be very upsetting and traumatic.”

It certainly puts a slow Internet connection — the most common result of Wifi mooching — into perspective. But Katz says it’s still not possible for the FBI to know if the person using your network is inside your house or hacking onto your network from somewhere else. What happened to the Tracys could happen to you.

Pay Dirt readers, is your Wifi password protected?

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    • Wow, that’s scary. I’m setting up a password ay-sap.

    • I belive consumer are very important for sservice.

    • I think this proves the point to the RIAA and the MPAA that “an IP address is not a person”

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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