SPECIAL REPORT: "Wireless Hunters"

Lawton_If you have a wireless connection to the internet, you may be at risk to hacking.  If your wireless router is not secure, hackers near you can connect to your computer and steal credit card numbers, look at personal photos and documents, and even watch what you do as you surf the internet.

All hackers need is a laptop to have access to someone's internet account for free.  There may not even be a sign that anyone has been piggybacking on your network, and possibly violating your privacy.

Stealing a wireless signal is called "war driving."  With the proper tools a hacker can compromise a person's network in a matter of seconds.  "Anybody can get access to your data if they sit outside with a laptop," says Joe Diaz owner of AA Computer Services.  Diaz accompanied 7News in an experiment in "war driving."

After driving around a west Lawton neighborhood, 20 unsecured networks were found, and it was simple to access open accounts.  For hackers, neighborhoods such as this are their playground.  An unsecured wireless router is like a door without a lock - wide open to anyone passing by.  "It's a virtual computer just sitting on your lap," says Diaz.  "You're on their machine.  They won't know about it...they have no record of it."

Once someone taps into your signal, they could have access to your most personal information.  "You have complete access to all their files - their data,"  Diaz says.  But, it's not only your saved files hackers can access.  They can see almost anything you save on your hard drive.  On your computer, small frequently used files called "cookies" are stored for easy access:  credit card numbers, passwords, addresses, etc.  It may make online shopping a breeze, but it also means your critical information is floating in cyberspace for anyone to steal.

Identity theft is widespread these days.  It's important to monitor how much you reveal on the net.  While you're shopping, you may be opening the door to criminals.  "If someone gets into your system, they can peruse, and maybe extract, some of that information, and do a little shopping for you," says Diaz.  "It's terrible....fraud is rampant."

But, don't just lock down your wireless network to protect your personal information.  Even simple browsing on the internet can have the federal government knocking on your door should someone piggyback on your network.  If someone uses your service to download pirated music and movies, or something more sinister such as child pornography, it could lead the feds to your house and make you the criminal.

Diaz says the key thing is to lock your system down.  "The average person, as you are aware, doesn't know that.  They buy an inexpensive router and throw it in..."  Now, he says, that person has a wireless connection - but, so does everyone else in the neighborhood if it's not secure.

When you install and configure your router, don't assign it a name that can be identified with you or your residence.  This will help hackers hone in on the signal at your house.  There are several local computer companies, like AA Computer Services which can help you secure your network.

7News Reporter Elaina Rusk