Friday, December 7, 2012

How to Stay Safe on Public WiFi Connections

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WiFi has changed our world.  I can remember when I first got an access point for my home.  I was completely unencumbered by wires and could surf at will.  It was one of the greatest experiences of my geek career.
 
Since then, WiFi has proliferated more than most of us could have imagined.  You can now find WiFi at Starbucks, McDonald's, almost anywhere.  If you pop open the WiFi settings of your phone or tablet, no matter where you are you can almost always find an access point.  It may be secured and unavailable, but you can still see them almost everywhere.
 
Of course, convenience always comes with a price.  The problem is now that with the almost universal presence of WiFi, you have to worry about security.
 
On open and unsecured Wi-Fi networks, there are lots of ways for the bad guys to see what you're doing as well as steal your usernames and passwords. For that reason, I have a couple of recommendations on how to keep your private data private. However, let me 1st state that no system is 100% foolproof. What I'm recommending are simply a couple of ways that make it much more difficult for your information to be stolen.
 
1. Get your own portable Wi-Fi access point. I know from many of you this may not be an option, but if it is possible for you to do so, the easiest way to ensure that your data is safe is to simply not use public access points and instead use your own portable one. These devices are available from any wireless carrier and simply connect to that carriers wireless network. I happen to use a device from Sprint called the Passport. It allows for 5 devices to connect wirelessly to Sprint's high-speed data network. It does require a monthly subscription fee, but as much time as I spend on the road I find having access to my own personal hotspot to be well worth it and because it is password protected it is more difficult for the bad guys to access my data.
2.  The other way I keep my data safe is by using a service called Hotspot Shield. This is a program that I have installed on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad. The software runs my Internet connection through a special server that encrypts my data. This makes me more or less "invisible" to both the bad guys and really anyone else. It can be used over Wi-Fi or on my Mac even through a wired connection. It comes in very handy when I don't have my wireless access point with me and I'm forced to use an open public network. Using this program I'm confident that no one can see what I'm doing. That means I can check e-mail, shop at Amazon, or do anything else that requires a username and password and I know my information is safe.
 
For even more ideas on how to safely use open public Wi-Fi, check out this article on Fox news.com

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