Public WiFi is something I increasingly take for granted. I pay for public WiFi access on my more ferry commute. Many coffee shops offer WiFi as a perk to customers. When I travel internationally, WiFi is something I actively seek out to avoid roaming charges or the need to burn through data on a pre-paid SIM card. Even most of the flights I’m on have WiFi. Each of those connection opportunities comes with a risk – I have no way of knowing whether the network I connect to is compromised or not and neither do you.
If a network is compromised, you could be exposing username and password information to people you wouldn’t want to give them to. Even if the network isn’t compromised, there are ways other people can see your network activity. Having someone see the password for your favorite website may not be the end of the world, but what about your banking information. Or worse, if you use the same username and password on many sites, exposing your login information on one site could put you at risk on many sites.
More Devices Mean More Security Risks
Now that laptops aren’t the only device used to connect to WiFi, protecting yourself becomes even more complicated. You could be exposing personal data via your smartphone or tablet. The device form factor doesn’t change the risk factor. Android, iOS, and Windows Phone are all equally capable of exposing data over a shared public connection.
Use Corporate Security When You Can
When you work for a company with a VPN, the risks are easy to overcome. Make sure you connect to the VPN before connecting to any accounts and your device security is as good as the security at the office. The big thing is to make sure you have the VPN profile on your device so you can easily protect yourself. If you don’t have a VPN, the options are potentially confusing, or at least they were.
Cloak Helps Make Security Simple for Apple Users
By Apple, I mean all Apple devices. If you have a iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or MacBook, there’s a great app called Cloak that can protect your device. Cloak is free for the first 1GB of data and 2 hours of usage per month, which is enough to test out the service and make an occasional data connection at the local coffee shop.
For MacBook users, Cloak automatically switches itself on when you are connected to an insecure network. For mobile devices, all you need to do to protected yourself is join the coffee shop (or any other) network and activate Cloak by switching your VPN from Off to On on the device you are using. If you go over the usage limit, the price is either $8 or $15 per month. Cloak allows you to use one user account for multiple devices, so the usage is aggregate across all devices, not per device.
Hotspot Shield Offers VPN Protection
Hotspot Shield is another configurable VPN, with support for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS and Android. I use it when I need to secure my Windows machines, though in many cases, I simply connect to a computer on my home network using LogMeIn instead. There’s an unlimited free version of Hotspot Shield, but it runs advertising continuously while you are connected. I’d personally rather pay for protection and avoid the ads, but using the ad-supported version certainly better than not protecting your connection.
The pay version of Hotspot Shield is available either for an annual fee of $29.95 or in bundles of 20 one-day passes at $0.50 per day. The mobile version also offers to compress data and provides a U.S. IP address to users who want to access resources blocked in their own country.
While Hotspot Shield is technically cheaper than Cloak, I find Cloak to be a better performing solution overall. Obviously, if you don’t have a Mac, Hotspot Shield is the Windows solution.