How to Keep Your Notebook Secure at Wi-Fi Hotspots

Last Updated Oct 7, 2008 9:31 AM EDT

hotspot.jpgI admit it: When I hop onto the free Wi-Fi network at Panera Bread, I rely on nothing more than Vista's firewall for security. Am I asking for trouble? Almost certainly. As Consumerist puts it: "Using a public Wi-Fi spot without a [Virtual Private Network] is like shouting everything across the room in plain English--anyone who wants to listen in, can."

See, while the firewall keeps hackers from breaking into my PC, the wireless traffic to and from the system is up for grabs. A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, encrypts that traffic, so that I'm "shouting across the room" in some indecipherable language.

What you (and I) should do, then, is install a free or cheap VPN program on our notebooks and use it every single time we access a public network. Consumerist lists a handful of VPN solutions, including the free OpenVPN program we covered last year. Also discussed: a USB drive you can plug in for instant (and user-friendly) VPN.

This is required reading for anyone who frequents public hotspots. Photo by cruiz7447.
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    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.

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