Keeping Your Public Wi-Fi Sessions Secure

Many users of public Wi-Fi networks run into security problems for the same reason that technology users at large do: apathy. They often just don’t want the hassle of setting up appropriate levels of security. In this post, and in a couple of upcoming ones, I’m going to describe some of the easiest and best ways to stay secure on public wireless networks.

One of the very best ways to secure your data when using public Wi-Fi networks is to use a VPN (virtual private network). You can do so for free through operating system support or through free VPN software, and in a follow-up post I will describe how to do so, but I much prefer some of the very inexpensive paid solutions that really give you exhaustive security. So they’re what I’ll delve into in this post.

For Windows users, I really like JiWire Hotspot Helper, which you can obtain for unlimited use for only $24.95 a year. It is just as secure as VPNs found on large corporate networks, and it automatically encrypts every single kind of outbound communication you might do, including e-mails, e-commerce transactions, VoIP calls, instant messages, and FTP transfers. This is one of the best, inexpensive deals going.

If you use a Mac, or you have multiple devices that you need security for, and you’re willing to spend slightly more money, look into HotSpotVPN. For a little over $100 a year, it offers airtight security for your Windows or Mac system, plus you get a free account to secure a handheld device, including an iPhone.

When accessing public Wi-Fi networks, also remember to use common sense. Don’t set your wireless card or software to automatically connect to the first available network, because the first available one may well be an intercept that allows hackers to get your login information, credit card number, and more. Also, make sure that when you are connecting, you clearly see a legitimate access point.

Finally, if you need to, go back to the installation CD or software that you used to set up Wi-Fi on your device and dutifully run through the security-enabling routines that you may have ignored upon installation. Ignoring simple security settings is one of the most common ways that wireless users make their private information available.

It is also important to run firewall software when using public Wi-Fi. The Mac operating system has a great built-in firewall, and Zone Alarm Free is good, no-cost software for Windows users. Most Wi-Fi routers also now come with free firewall software.

Even users who have set up older, less robust security such as WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) can benefit from moving to more robust standards, such as WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), and WPA2. The Wi-Fi Alliance’s site is good to visit regularly for keeping up with emerging wireless standards. In an upcoming post, I will delve into some of the free ways to secure your use of public Wi-Fi networks, but the low-cost VPN tools discussed here are my favorite solutions.

Do you have any tips on secure use of public wireless networks?

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