10 Top Tips For Protecting Yourself At Hot Spots
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.
3. Use an encrypted USB flash drive. For maximum protection of your data, use a clean laptop that only has an operating system applications on it, and put all of the data you're taking with you on an encrypted USB flash drive. Many flash drives include encryption features. That way, even if someone somehow gets into your PC, they won't be able to read or alter any of your data.
4. Use a personal firewall. A firewall will protect you from anyone trying to break into your PC, and can also protect any spyware or Trojans on your PC from making outbound connections. The XP firewall offers only one-way protection; it doesn't stop outbound connections. So for maximum security, don't rely on XP's firewall. There are plenty of good firewalls out there, but for most purposes, the free version of ZoneAlarm is a great choice.
5. Turn off file sharing. It's fine to enable file sharing on your home network. But doing it at a public hotspot invites any of your close-by latte drinkers to start slurping files off your system. To turn it off. Turn it off by running Windows Explorer, right-clicking on the drive or folders you normally share, choosing Sharing and Security, and unchecking the box next to "Share this folder on the network."
6. Make sure the hotspot is a legitimate one. One of the latest hotspot scams is for someone to set up a hotspot themselves in a public location or cafe, and when you connect, steal your personal information, or ask you to type in sensitive information in order to log in. So before connecting at a hotspot, ask someone at the counter of the cafe the name of the hotspot, because someone may have set up another one, in the hopes of luring in the unwary.
7. Disable or remove your wireless adapter if you're working offline. Just because you're at a hotspot doesn't necessarily mean that you have to connect to the Internet -- you may want to work offline. If that's the case, remove your wireless card. If you instead have a wireless adapter built into your laptop, disable it. In XP, right-click the wireless icon, and choose Disable. If you're using the adapter's software to manage your connection, check the laptop on how to disable it.
8. Use email encryption. Much email software includes encryption features that encrypt messages and attachments. So turn on email encryption when you're at a hotspot. In Outlook 2003, select Options from the Tools menu, click the Security tab, and then check the box next to "Encrypt contents and attachments for outgoing messages." Then click OK.
9. Look over your shoulder. Sniffers and hacking techniques aren't required for someone to steal your user names and passwords. Someone only needs to peer over your shoulder to watch what you're typing. So make sure no one snoops on you as you computer.
10. Don't leave your laptop alone. Had too many lattes and need to hit the rest room? Don't leave your laptop behind. Laptop thefts are getting increasingly common at hotspots. In fact, San Francisco has been subject to a hotspot crime wave of sorts, with thieves even grabbing people's laptops while they were using them. Some hotspots have responded by including a port to which you can lock your laptop via a laptop lock.