As a frequent traveler, I use public WiFi networks at places like Starbucks on a regular basis. Public WiFi security is a major concern, because most places run their free public WiFi in a wide open state. This means that when you sign on to most services in your local coffee shop, you’re allowing anyone else on the network to potentially gain access to your email, your bank account, your Facebook profile, or anywhere else you go online. Some of the risks are potentially mitigated by using a secure HTTPS connection whenever possible, but on an open WiFi network you still need to take additional security precautions. Ideally you should create your own private network that runs securely on top of the WiFi network. It’s easier than you think and requires a quick and easy free software install available to anyone with Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.
The solution for creating your own protected network for true public WiFi security is to use free VPN software. At one point, this involved a great deal of complex configuration, but there are now a number of free services that allow you to secure your browsing. Hotspot Shield is one of the easiest of these services to configure. Their price for securing your connection is showing ads at the top of your browser window, but you can easily close them.
After you download and install Hotspot Shield you simply need to run it after you connect to a public WiFi network (but before you browse anyplace you might be using a username or password).
The icon for Hotspot Shield sits in your system tray with a really simple indicator letting you know whether your connection is secure or not. If the Hotspot Shield icon is green, you are protecting your connection. If the Hotspot Shield icon is red, your passwords are at risk. The icon also appears yellow during the connection process, so just remember to wait until it turns green before entering passwords in any site.