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Summary:

In this post, I’ll detail the four most important steps you can take to keep your public Wi-Fi sessions secure, and make some recommendations for free tools you can use, as well as ways you can approach your commonly used applications for optimized security.

Web workers continue to make frequent use of public hotspots, and the number of places where you can get free Wi-Fi in public continues to grow. In fact, business use of hotspots is growing at a seismic rate.


In this post, I’ll detail the four most important steps you can take to keep your public Wi-Fi sessions secure, and make some recommendations for free tools you can use, as well as ways you can approach your commonly used applications for optimized security.

Use a VPN. One of the most common tools that users of hotspots neglect to use is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) application. It’s ironic, because good VPN software is free, and once you’ve installed one, entering one password can put what you’re doing in a secure tunnel. I’ve posted before about my favorite solution OpenVPN, but you can find lots of other good ones for free online. OpenVPN is a long-standing open source project, and I’ve found it to be bullet-proof.

Don’t Forget the Firewall. Firewall software, for blocking hackers and other threats, exists within both Windows and Mac OS X, although many people have complaints about the firewall in Windows Vista. The firewall built into Mac OS X is actually very good. Windows users who want to find a good, free solution can go with Zone Alarm Free.

Avoid Using Internet Explorer. Sorry Microsoft, but one of the big reasons people gravitate to browsers like Firefox, Opera and Safari is that they are simply less of a target for hackers, and also have fewer exposed vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

Keep Your Logins Secure. It’s easy to disable the feature in your browser that automatically types in log-ins and passwords. In a public place do so as a best practice. In Firefox, for example, go to the Tools menu, select Options and click off “Remember passwords for sites.” Also, if you are a frequent Gmail user, sign in with the most secure URL available: http://gmail.google.com. The “s” after http wins you SSL security protection.

Of these four top tips for keeping your public sessions secure, I view using a VPN as the most important. If you are working within one, you stand nearly no chance of being hacked no matter what else you do.

What are your recommendations for keeping public Wi-Fi sessions secure?

  1. [...] 4 Ways to Keep Your Public Wi-Fi Sessions Secure [...]

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  2. I use the Firefox profile manager to create a separate profile I use when browsing from a public wifi.
    This has no stored passwords or any addons that could disclose any passwords (such as gmail notifier).

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  3. I use Hotspot Shield – a freee VPN solution

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  4. Does using a “master password” in Firefox make any difference?

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  5. The secure Gmail tip looks so simple and useful. Yet a lot of people aren’t aware of that. Wonder if the same technique can be implemented in yahoo, hotmail etc.

    The latest trends in the WiFi technology is amazing. But with such developments, security concerns also arise. Users should educate themselves by heeding to such advice while being online.

    Vanessa @ Future of Engineering Blog

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  6. [...] How many of you work away from the home office? I do as often as I can. My favorite place is a coffee shop. Web Worker Daily had a post recently called, 4 ways to keep your public Wi-Fi sessions secure. [...]

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  7. And you set those firewall settings to…what? I’ve been looking for that information for months. Everyone tells you “Use a firewall,” yeah, we got that years ago. What tweaks do I make to the configuration so I can save those settings and then switch over to them when I’m sitting in the coffee house or in the museum? Are the settings that I have at my house good enough or am I hacker-bait?

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  8. Firewall settings and browser settings will not directly help you from a hacker at the hotspot reading your data scenario. You need a firewall without a doubt, but your firewall settings from home are just fine. Changing browser profiles or even browsers makes minimal difference from the hotspot hacker angle since all of your data is going into a public wifi pool unencrypted. Whatever you type or bring up in your browser can be read and is in the clear. The hacking is going on in the hotspot network not in your computer. However, I agree that Firefox is a superior browser for use anywhere. If you encrypt the data with a vpn than you are at less risk than you are at home. This is because most cable modem services are set up in shared networks where a determined neighbor can easily see your data flowing through. OpenVPN is the base software for a lot of great vpn’s but the average user can’t use it because it requires a server set up for the other end of the connection. There are several companies that have excellent set ups using OpenVPN. The free solutions include advertising and a bandwidth limit. I find that annoying and would rather pay a few dollars a month and not deal with it. Some solutions only protect your browser and do not encrypt your other applications like Outlook, IM and such that work outside the browser. I’ve been using Surfbouncer Personal VPN based on OpenVPN for several months now and it covers all of these issues and works great. There are others out there that claim to do the same thing but I have not tried them. One final note, gmail’s ssl has been compromised under certain circumstances by a technique know as sidejacking. So even this is not totally secure from a determined hacker although the odds of this happening are pretty low.

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  9. [...] Wherever you’re on an unsecured wireless network, it’s possible that someone is peering into your online traffic.  For help to make lessen this threat, read our previous coverage. [...]

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  10. [...] be in for same pain. A good point – there are lots of things you can do to protect yourself. Here are some simple tips [...]

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