Using Public Wi-Fi? Hop Into a Free VPN Tunnel First

I spent several hours during yesterday’s NewTeeVee Live conference at San Francisco’s Mission Bay Conference Center sitting at the press table with tech writers from various publications who were connecting to the open Wi-Fi network. Before I connected to the center’s hotspot, I loaded a VPN (virtual private network) application, which provides a secure, encrypted tunnel within which I use public Wi-Fi. The one I use happens to be custom and proprietary, and takes about 15 seconds to establish a connection that will keep me completely secure on an open network.

I noticed, though, that while some of the writers at the conference were probably using firewalls, hardly any of them used VPNs to keep their Wi-Fi sessions completely secure. And these were tech writers. That’s a shame, because there are a lot of good, completely free VPN applications available.

One of the best choices out there is OpenVPN, an open-source, cross-platform VPN solution. The freeware world, too, includes many VPN applications that users swear by, such as iPig from iOpus and the free version of LogMeIn’s Hamachi. Cisco’s cross-platform VPN client is also widely used, although note that it’s incompatible with some firewalls. Hotspot Shield is also well-liked by many Windows and Mac users.

Windows 7 actually comes with a built-in Agile VPN client, but it’s not said to be as easy as many of the free, time-tested clients. Snow Leopard Server also offers VPN functionality, and previous versions of the Mac OS have included it. For many users, though, especially ones who don’t have access to help from an IT department, simple, free downloadable VPN solutions–which usually have intuitive interfaces–are great choices.

VPN applications couldn’t be easier to use. Once installed, you simply sign in to them, and your online communications are routed through encrypted tunnels. Problems with particular VPN clients are typically the result of firewall-related conflicts, but you can easily find an app that works for you.

As is always true with security software solutions, user apathy is the biggest problem of all. So the next time you use public Wi-Fi, make sure you hop into a secure VPN tunnel first.

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