Everybody needs hotspot Internet access from time to time, but have you ever thought about how to make it as safe and efficient as possible? There are lots of hacks that even a beginner can use to get the most out of this resource, starting with help tracking those elusive hotspots down...
If you need a Wifi connection but aren't sure where to look, don't worry! There are plenty of tools that mean you won't have to hang around in the street, looking like someone who is up to no good. Boingo is one example, a service that gives you access to the hundreds of Boingo hotspots around the globe. The only problem with services like Boingo is that many require membership and/or subscription, which isn't exactly what you want to hear in your time of need. NetStumbler is a no-subscribe alternative, but I think it's always good to have a few on hand, because hotspot finders are famously finicky.
What about safety? Are you sure that no one is taking advantage of the fact that you are taking advantage of some free Internet? You'll need to protect yourself from possible attacks, and luckily there are plenty of programs that will help you do just that. Hotspot Shield is a perennial favorite, re-routing your IP address through a VPN (virtual private network) connection of its own. This blurs your connection's origins, making it much harder to hack.
As these programs work by making your IP address a little hard to pin down, they also have another, unexpected benefit. Many of the US's most popular websites - such as Hulu and Pandora - are not available outside of the country. These companies know whether you are on American soil by - wait for it - looking at your IP address! Obviously, if they can't tell that you're not in the US, they can't prevent you from accessing their sites, a surprise that makes IP based-hotspot shields twice as attractive!
Beyond the software, there are plenty of additional security measures you can take:
- Access hotspots with your own computer or laptop. If you use one that is already connected, you have no idea of the (possibly malicious) applications that have already been installed and are waiting to steal your passwords and bank account number!
- Turn off file and printer sharing. You might not even realize that it is enabled, so check even if you don't think you need to. Right click on the file or folder in question, and choose 'Sharing and Security'.
- Protect your actual laptop! It might be lovely to check your emails in the park at lunchtime, just don't doze off in the sun, leaving the laptop at the mercy of any passing thieves...
- Despite your best attempts, there is always a risk that your system might be breached. In case this does happen, store your most sensitive data in encrypted, password-protected files. This is actually a good idea on any computer, but especially when you are connecting to hotspots and are therefore more vulnerable.
All the same, readers, I have to admit that I expected to find more programs that would help me maximize and/or manage my wireless networks. Of the ones I tried, some didn't work, others didn't perform and a few were so complicated that they were pretty much useless. Do you know of anything better? If you do, let me know in the comments form below - I'd be grateful for your advice!