Wi-Fi hot spots are popping up in a growing number of homes, businesses, hospitals, and even parks. But are they safe? With many users unaware of free firewall protection and a built-in feature that scrambles data (called “encryption”) on their wireless devices, the answer is too often “no.”

National studies show that at least one-third of all wireless networks are unsecured. That means the confidential data they carry and store can be picked up by electronic eavesdroppers hacking in from as far as a mile away. Securing your network isn’t difficult or expensive. It just involves reading your owner’s manual and following a few easy steps.

Legislation that went into effect on Oct. 17, 2006 will curb consumer threats associated with unprotected wireless networks in Westchester County. This law, which is the first of its kind in the United States and possibly the world, requires commercial businesses to better protect the databases that contain personal information of their customers and to advise people in Internet cafes of the risks associated with wireless network.