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Security is a JiWire act

Wi-Fi software provider unveils its first premium service: a secure connection in porous public hot spots.

Security
San Francisco-based JiWire on Tuesday introduced a $5-a-month service to enhance the security of Internet connections at any of the thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots identified in its Global Hotspot Directory.

JiWire developed the service, called SpotLock, in response to concerns about the lack of wireless-connection security at the 60,000 locations in listed JiWire's directory, the company's chief executive said.

The new offering underscores a lingering concern for users of Wi-Fi, the technology that allows computer users to wirelessly connect over short distances to other computers and the Internet.

JiWire Chief Executive Kevin McKenzie argues that the problem is due to a lack of manpower, not industry consensus on Wi-Fi standards or product development. Few hot-spot operators have extensive knowledge of computer networking, nor do they have a network administrator on hand to guard users against "phishing" e-mail solicitations and "evil twin" attacks in which hackers host fake log-in Web sites designed to spread viruses or lure Wi-Fi users into divulging sensitive personal information.

"We index about 63,000 hot spots, and I can tell you truthfully that no one uses security," McKenzie added during an interview on Tuesday. "A lot of people told us that they were concerned their data was being hijacked."

Plunging equipment prices and the emergence of commercial Wi-Fi providers such as Boingo Wireless pushed Wi-Fi technology--security problems and all--into the mainstream several years ago. Wi-Fi networks are now in millions of homes, offices, cafes, hotels, conference centers and transportation hubs. Cities bathe business districts with free Internet access to lure more visitors.

As they continue to proliferate, Wi-Fi networks are becoming an even juicier target for phishers and evil-twin perpetrators. Security concerns persist despite several industry-accepted security standards and a plethora of new products, such as a transparent film, called SpyGuard, that can be put on windows to block Wi-Fi transmissions--a product recently endorsed by the British government.

CNET Networks, the publisher of News.com, is an investor in JiWire.

CNET News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report.

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