I think a lot of the stuff you hear about Wi-Fi being not secure is overblown (more on that later), but there is one security issue with Wi-Fi that does matter: you need to take steps to encrypt your Wi-Fi communications when you are in public hot spots. Just like lions learn to wait by the watering hole to pick off some easy prey, hackers know that the best place to pick up some passwords and other sensitve data is a place with free Wi-Fi.
If you are a Wi-Fi aficianado and you use your laptop at public hotspots you need to take precautions. The easiest way to secure your connection is to use a service called HotSpotVPN. It doesn’t require the installation of any special software, and it works with both Macs and Windows computers. The service is $8.88 per month, which is cheap if you compare it to the risk of getting your identity stolen because you decided to check your E-mail at a Wi-Fi hotspot one day. You can try it free for a week, and that’s the best way to see how easy it is to configure and to use. If you have any trouble with the configuration you can E-mail them and they will respond quickly. I emailed them just to find out what they were all about and got to talk to the head honcho, a guy named Glenn. My sense is that this is a company that is working hard to make its service smooth and easy to use.
I first heard about this service from Mike Cruft, who is a major techno-geek at Disney. His explanation of how HotSpotVPN works is worth checking out. Cory Doctorow, another alpha-geek, also endorses this service.
I’ve used it for a couple of days now and I can say it works well on my 12″ Apple Powerbook. I sometimes disable it at home because it does add a small delay in pulling up web pages (not really enough to be annoying). And, as I said at the beginning of this post, I think that some security issues with Wi-Fi are overblown. I don’t like the idea of enabling security on my home wireless access point because if anyone comes over and wants to use it I want to make it easy for them to do so. I know that my neighbors don’t have Wi-Fi or, even if they did, they know enough about computers to start running packet sniffers. Still, it’s nice to know that if I want to keep my traffic secure at home I can do it with the flip of a switch.