In my previous post on the topic of how users of public Wi-Fi services can keep their sessions secure, I mentioned a couple of VPN (virtual private network) offerings that cost from $30 to about $100 a year. There are also a number of good free VPN offerings that will keep public Wi-Fi users safe. I’ll run through several of the best ones in this post. If you use free Wi-Fi service at all, definitely go with a VPN. It runs totally in the background after you sign in, and gives you a private, encrypted tunnel for your data and communications when on a public wireless connection.
Whether you use Windows, a Mac, or Linux, OpenVPN is probably your simplest, most robust way–among the free products–to secure your Wi-Fi sessions. The download takes seconds, and OpenVPN works with Windows Vista. OpenVPN is a long-standing open-source project, so while you won’t get the support you receive if you pay for a VPN, it is a very solid product that shouldn’t provide any compatibility problems.
One of the readers of my previous post on securing public Wi-Fi sessions wrote in with positive comments about a freeware VPN software offering known as iPig (iOpus Private Internet Gateway), from iOpus. You can find an excellent discussion about it, as well as discussions of the Hamachi freeware VPN offering from LogMeIn, and OpenVPN online.
IPig is a simple download, and from any public hotspot you get encrypted access to all your applications through a secure server. It’s only for Windows at this point, but many people who want a free VPN solution have praised it, including security guru Steve Gibson.
As I mentioned in my previous post, in addition to running VPN software, regular users of public Wi-Fi services should run firewall software in addition to VPN software. For Mac users, the firewall that is built-in to Mac OS X by default is excellent. Windows users can go with their built-in firewall software, but I prefer Zone Alarm Free, which, true to its name, costs nothing.
One other thing to keep in mind during public Wi-Fi sessions is that you can often ensure a secure session in a particular web application by using the prefix “https” in the URL you use. For example, if you’re going into GMail, use the URL http://mail.google.com to ensure a completely secure session, even as you login. The https prefix is a combination of normal http interaction and an encrypted Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) connection. SSL is the most widespread encryption standard in the world–in all the browsers.
And that should do it for you, public Wi-Fi users. A few simple, free downloads can keep the hackers at bay, even down at the cafe. The download and installation of these tools are really worth the few minutes they will cost you.
Do you have any security tips for public Wi-Fi users?