I do a lot of my consulting work in public places, and confess that when it’s convenient, I’ll stop in the local coffee shop to catch up on email, pay bills, check to see if I’ve been paid yet, and more. The problem is that I’m getting worried about using public WiFi networks for my private data. Am I right to worry, and if so, what can I do about it?
You should not, ever, use a public network to conduct private business. It is all too easy for folks looking to do you harm to snoop on your WiFi traffic, sniff out passwords, account numbers, and other sensitive data, and otherwise steal from you. So what’s the answer? Should you just never use public WiFi for anything except texting and innocuous emailing? That’s not necessarily so, but you’ll need some help to make public WiFi use safe. The answer is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), a software tool that basically provides you a private network over public infrastructure. Unless your company provides a private VPN for your use, you'l need to find a commercially available VPN, and turn it on whenever you’re working, using the Web, in public. There are, to be honest, a zillion options for commercial VPN vendors, and some are more trustworthy than others. Remember: the VPN vendor is routing all your public Web traffic through their servers, so if you sign up with a VPN vendor that’s less than reputable, it’s possible that you’re just as vulnerable (or more) than you were without them. Our current favorite is a vendor and product named TunnelBear. (VPN’s create a logical “tunnel” for your data through the public internet transport, hence the name.) Their prices are great and they’re rock solid and reliable. TunnelBear has VPN hookup software available for Windows, Mac OS X, Android, and iOS. Most importantly (besides being safe), TunnelBear is super easy to use, and won’t get in your way. And their cute little bear animations help out in easing the installation and use of what could otherwise be a complex tool. Check out tunnelbear.com for more information.