Safer Surfing On The Internet
By Steven N. Solomon
Walk into most coffee shops and you will almost always see someone on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Chances are these people are using the free WiFi to connect to their office, home computer or are just looking up something on the internet. These free hot spots have even expanded to parks and transportation centers, like airports. The problem is that these connections to the internet may not be secure and you put yourself and business at risk.
When you log onto one of these networks you can never be sure if it is free of surveillance software or if someone is able to look and see exactly where you are going and logging into. Other than using your cell phone provider’s network, which is generally more secure (though they may have its own issues with perma cookies) and is probably a slower connection, what can you do?
A VPN, Virtual Private Network, is able to secure your connection. Think of a VPN as a direct, encrypted, connection to your office or another part of the internet. This direct encrypted connection prevents others from seeing where you are going and what you are doing on the internet. This is invaluable if you are an attorney, medical professional or just an ordinary individual that needs to access sensitive information whether it be office records or signing in to your bank.
Please note that depending on the VPN some of your actions, like location and when you log in may be recorded so make sure to check out the Policy of the service you use. Here is a link to a site that has compiled a list of anonymous VPNs . Also be aware that even though your connection to the internet is secure, you are still vulnerable to the malware that is on the internet like you always are (the paid version of HotSpot Shield claims to provide malware protection though along with possibly others)
So how do you get started with a VPN? For those technically gifted you can build your own. Check out this website from Lifehacker on how to create your own VPN and this other site on how to make it even more secure.
For the rest, who have trouble with the automatic coffee maker, you are in luck. There are many companies that offer a ready to use VPN. Some offer a limited free service, which may only allow you to use a certain amount of data and/or time on their VPN and may also provide a slower connection to the internet. If you decide to use the pay option these restrictions are lifted. What is nice about most of these services is that you can use them not just on your computer but also on your mobile devices.
To help get you started, here is a list of some VPN services. I can not vouch for any of them personally but they all seem to be decent.