When using a public Wi-Fi hotspot or any public network the security and privacy of your data is at risk. Most wireless hotspots do not use any type of encryption which means all your traffic is sent in plain text through the air. Anyone with wireless sniffing tools, which are easily to use and find online, can capture all traffic broadcast between your computer and the access point (AP). Any Web sites you visit and anything submitted on a form such as you e-mail address or contact information that is not protected with HTTPS/SSL can easily be harvested.
The same is true for most public wired networks that you plug your computer into. While it is not as easy, a network administrator can view all traffic that is not protected with HTTPS/SSL and identify exactly what you are doing on the Internet.
In short, when it comes to public network you have very little privacy and the security of any activity you perform on the public network is at risk. So, what can you do about this?
The solution is to use a virtual private network (VPN). VPN software creates a secure encrypted tunnel between two points, your computer and a VPN remote server. That way all the data that is broadcast on the public network is fully encrypted so anyone that attempts to eavesdrop will only see random garbled data.
For consumers there are a few companies that provide this type of protection for free. All work in a similar manner:
- Install the client on your PC.
- After you are connected to the Internet launch the software and establish the secure connection.
- Browse the Web securely.
The Tor network is made up of volunteers that setup relays to help users remain anonymous and their privacy safe online. The free utility is available with an installer or a USB to-go version that you can run on any computer without installing it from your USB flash drive.
Hotspot Shield is another free VPN solution for consumers but this software is supported by advertisements that are placed on the top of every Web page. It requires to be installed on your computer but performance is fairly good.
The Free VPN
The Free VPN is the final free VPN solution that I recommend. It is also supported by advertisements but they are not as obstructive as Hotspot Shield. It also supports Hulu so users abroad that are blocked can use Hulu to watch movies and TV shows.