Public Wi-Fi hotspots are brilliant for ensuring you can check your email and surf the web while on the go. However, using public wireless internet can also leave you wide open to attack. We show you the proper precautions you'll need to take to ensure you're not inviting your coffee colleagues to partake in confidential information.
Use your VPN
If your company offers a VPN (virtual private network) connection with internet access, you should take advantage of that functionality when using either free or subscription Wi-Fi hotspots.
By enabling the VPN function on your laptop, you ensure that all of your communication is encrypted with high-strength ciphers and tunnelled from the Wi-Fi hotspot, across the internet, and into your company's data center, where it is unpacked and sent out on the company's internet connection.
This is a secure method of accessing company resources (intranet, email, databases) because no matter who is also on the shared wireless network, you have a private tunnel back to your company.
In some companies' VPN configurations, you can also browse the internet in addition to accessing company resources.
Such an arrangement may be slightly slower than unencrypted web browsing, but the security makes it worthwhile.
Additionally, if you are travelling in a country that imposes internet restrictions (such as China or Egypt), you can tunnel your traffic back through your UK-based VPN connection and reach sites as if you were in Britain.
If your company doesn't offer a VPN service or has a 'split tunnelling' VPN (in which only requests to company resources travel through the encrypted tunnel, and all other traffic transmits unencrypted directly to the target), don't worry - you can still stay safe.
Try out HotSpot Shield, a no-cost VPN service from AnchorFree.
The company offers its own VPN software that you install on your laptop prior to using public Wi-Fi.
Once you enable the software and service, it encrypts your traffic and sends it through a tunnel to the HotSpot Shield data center and then out to the internet, in much the same way a company's VPN server does.
HotSpot Shield even has mobile VPN settings (with no downloads necessary) to protect your web surfing on your iPhone using the built-in Cisco VPN client software that Apple provides.
By using a such a service, you make your connection secure all the way from the coffee shop to the AnchorFree data centre in Northern California.
Once there, your traffic travels unencrypted to its final destination on the internet, as if you were browsing from a laptop plugged directly into the company's data centre.
This arrangement isn't perfectly secure, since the encrypted tunnel does not travel all the way to the website you visit.
However, it's certainly more secure than a setup with no VPN at all; to get in, would-be data thieves would need access to the AnchorFree data center, not just the Wi-Fi network you're on.
NEXT PAGE: Wi-Fi surfing safety summary
- Make sure you and your data are protected
- Your personal business is your competitors' business
- Paid hotspots: safety not included
- Use your VPN
- Wi-Fi surfing safety summary