Wi-Fi hotspots have become ubiquitous at cafes, airports, restaurants, and other public location. In fact, more and more cities are creating hotspots that blanket entire metropolitan areas.
But every time you connect at a hotspot, you're asking for trouble. hotspots are open networks that don't use encryption, which invites hacking and snooping. In addition, when you're on a hotspot you're connected to the same network as your fellow hotspot users, they can potentially weasel their way onto your PC and inflict damage.
But don't let that deter you from connecting. There's plenty you can do to keep yourself safe at hotspots. Just follow these ten tips.
1. Disable Wi-Fi ad-hoc mode Wi-Fi runs in two modes: infrastructure mode, which you use when you connect to a network; and ad-hoc mode, when you connect directly to another PC. If you've enabled ad-hoc mode, there's a chance that someone near you can establish an ad-hoc connection to you without your knowledge, and they'll then have free reign in your PC. So when you're in a hotspot, make sure that ad-hoc mode is turned off. To do it:
- Right-click the wireless icon in the System Tray.
- Choose Status.
- Click Properties
- Select the Wireless Networks tab.
- Select your current network connection.
- Click Properties, then click the Association tab.
- Uncheck the box next to "This is a computer-to-computer (ad hoc) network".
- Click OK, and keep clicking OK until the dialog boxes disappear.
2. Use a wireless Virtual Private Network (VPN) When you're at a hotspot, anyone nearby with a sniffer can see all the packets you send and receive. This means they can see your passwords, user names, email...anything you do online. A great way to protect yourself is with a wireless VPN that encrypts all the information you send and receive when you're online, so you'll be free from snoopers. My favorite is hotspotVPN. It's easy to set up and use; you don't need to download software, because it uses XP's built-in VPN software. It costs $8.88 per month, or in one, three, and seven day increments for ,$3.88, $5.88, and $6.88 respectively. You can also pay for more secure VPN encryption from the service for between $10.88 and $13.88 per month.