If you never leave the comfort of your home and office networks, then you’re probably not too worried about prying eyes spying on your Internet use. (Unless of course you don’t adequately protect your own network, which is another post entirely—remember to password protect those wireless routers!) However, if you’re like most small business owners you’re probably frequently on the go and sometimes have to resort to public Wi-Fi connections in places like coffee shops and airports. When you do, all your online activity is laid wide open to those prying eyes.
There are things you can do to protect yourself when using an unprotected hotspot (or even just using your computer in a hotspot area), such as turning off your wireless radio if you don’t need the Internet, not accessing sites that require you to enter passwords, and making sure that your antivirus and firewall software is on and up-to-date. But, your best defense is to use personal VPN (Virtual Private Network) software whenever you access the Internet via a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
There are many paid services that offer VPN. (Watch this video to learn more about VPN.) Many companies have a VPN set-up for their remote workers to use when accessing email or the corporate network drives from off-site locations. You might also get an Air Card so that you always have your own personal Internet connection from anywhere, or just browse using a smartphone with a data plan.
However, if you only have an occasional need to use public Wi-Fi hotspots to access the Internet from your computer, then paid services can be prohibitively expensive. The free Hotspot Shield VPN software may be just what you need.
This CNet 4.5 star editor rated software, provides everything you need in a basic VPN package. Simply run the program when you access a public network. It will encrypt your activity and keep it from being accessed by anyone attempting to intercept your browsing. It can be used with any browser, and works by connecting you to its servers, and re-routing your http traffic over to safer https. It also provides you with a unique IP address that is protected from man-in-the-middle and wireless spoofing attacks.
Based on tests by CNet editors, and reviews by CNet users, using Hotspot Shield may improve or reduce your Internet speeds—depending on your normal connection speed and the location of the site to which you are connecting. Also be aware that when you install the free version, you’ll want to opt-out of the toolbar and other “extras” included in the package. You’ll also have to put up with seeing ads while browsing via Hotspot Shield. But if you only use it occasionally, it’s worth it to keep yourself secure when connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots.