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Petty Officer Markus Ramirez, a cook from the crew of the USS Essex, connected to free wireless Internet service Thursday at Wolfgang Puck’s Café in the Harbor View Club at Sasebo Naval Base to pay his monthly bills while enjoying some hot coffee.

Petty Officer Markus Ramirez, a cook from the crew of the USS Essex, connected to free wireless Internet service Thursday at Wolfgang Puck’s Café in the Harbor View Club at Sasebo Naval Base to pay his monthly bills while enjoying some hot coffee. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — With Wi-Fi Internet access cropping up on many Pacific bases, experts are advising users to exercise a little common sense to protect their information while they surf the Web.

“First and foremost, you have to make sure you have an up-to-date firewall on your computer,” said Tim Hein, from Sasebo’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation information support department. “Whether it is built in your operating system, part of an anti-virus suite or a stand-alone firewall, it’s a must.”

A firewall is software that lets the computer’s owner control who or what can access the computer and can prevent an unauthorized person or Web site from accessing information or inserting unwanted programs.

Hein installed wireless access in Wolfgang Puck’s Café at the Harbor View Club and established “hot spots” — Wi-Fi access points — at the Galaxies Club and plans others.

“It’s becoming more widely used everywhere,” he said. “Convenience is the main reason and it makes the Internet more accessible to the general public.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Markus Ramirez, a cook on the USS Essex, was in Wolfgang Puck’s Café enjoying hot coffee Thursday while paying bills on his laptop computer.

“It helps a lot being able to come to a place like this and connect for free,” said Ramirez, who has a firewall and anti-virus software — basically, the works when it comes to computer security. “Plus, I can relax and enjoy the coffee … and I feel like my computer … is just as safe as if I was using a wired connection.”

Many other bases already offer wireless Internet access, and more are considering it.

But at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Internet connectivity still involves wires — for now.

“We’re looking to bring wireless hot spots here, but we don’t have a specific date,” said Jaciyn Matanane, supervisor for Japan Telecom at the base.

Wireless networking recently was installed at all Okinawa Marine Corps clubs and libraries with connections available free of charge, Okinawa Marine Corps Community Services spokesman Ben Erichsen said Thursday.

But you don’t have to get out of your pajamas to surf the Web wirelessly: Any home DSL or cable broadband user can connect a wireless router and create a home wireless network, Sasebo’s Hein said.

Again, security is key. In addition to an updated firewall, he urged reading all the recommended literature that comes with wireless equipment and following those guidelines.

“You can’t just open a box and plug it in and expect it to be as safe as it could be, but that’s what a lot of Americans have come to expect,” he said.

At open wireless access spots, anyone using a computer equipped to receive the signal can tap into the connection if they are in range, usually a radius of about 300 feet.

On home, office or other nonpublic wireless networks, only computers registered within a domain, or family, of computers can use the signal if they are in range.

Such networks offer protection through encrypted security codes, Hein said

Stars and Stripes reporter Vince Little contributed to this story.


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