If you own a notebook computer (laptop), chances are that you have already connected to an unsecured wireless network (hotspot) in the past, or you will need to do so in the future. Some people might even connect to their neighbor’s unsecured wireless network without even realizing it! There are many places where you might want to connect to an unsecured wireless network including coffee shops, airports, libraries, schools and more.
So what exactly is an “unsecured wireless network”? It is a network that allows anyone to connect, generally to access internet resources. The problem is that an unsecured wireless network does not use any type of encryption technology. This means that any communication that you send or receive is transmitted in plain text format, which means that anyone can read it if they really wanted to. This is no good, especially if you need to send or receive sensitive information such as usernames/passwords, bank account information, emails, or other such items.
So what should you do to protect yourself? One option is to connect to your employer’s network via VPN (virtual private network). This will encrypt your traffic, but it is also sent through your employer’s computing infrastructure, so you should probably limit your communications to work related activities.
So how can you protect your personal communications when connected to an unsecured wireless hotspot? You can try out a free service and free software from Anchor Free named “HotSpot Shield”. When using HotSpot Shield, you are connected to the AnchorFree VPN system, which encrypts your traffic and prevents snooping eyes from accessing your data. Keep in mind that the company providing the service (AnchorFree) could see your information if they chose to, but it is a nice alternative to sending out all of your data in an unprotected, plain text format.