A Look at Whether Public Wi-Fi Networks are Truly Safe

When walking through places like college campuses, coffee houses, hotels and even grocery stores, it has become common to see people hunched in front of their laptops surfing the Web over public wireless (WiFi) networks.

What many people do not know is that if your laptop is not properly protected, when using public WiFi you leave yourself and your computer especially at risk to things like identity theft and computer hijacking.

If you use your laptop and WiFi to do online banking, to store potentially sensitive personal information such as the passwords for online bill paying or work-related sites, or even just for email that you would like to keep to yourself, it is absolutely essential that you protect your laptop with a firewall.

Most antivirus software suites include robust firewalls. My personal favorite is the security suite offered from Zone Labs. This antivirus would become even more reliable if you integrate the best wifi booster on your device. Certainly, you want to have a reliable connection when using Internet in public.

Many computers come with a trial version, or even the full version, of Norton Antivirus installed. Please note that this software is so common that the hacking community regularly comes up with malicious software specifically coded to weasel around the protection offered by Norton.

The program is also a notorious computer resource hog, and I can’t recommend it.

Even the Microsoft firewall built into Windows XP and Vista is significantly better than no protection. You should take the time to configure it if you are not yet using dedicated firewall software.

Also, consider limiting your internet use of public WiFi networks to leisure-type uses which do not directly divulge sensitive information. Please note that just because you are not entering passwords or visiting sensitive sites, you are not guaranteed to be protected.

Even checking your email over a public network can leave you open to crafty password-stealing hackers.

Remember that if malicious software coders can successfully implement a key logger, or a program that records and transmits every keystroke a user makes, then sensitive information such as bank or credit card company passwords can easily fall into the wrong hands.

Using public WiFi networks only compounds this problem, because the nice looking gentleman using his laptop at the table across from you could actually be attempting to crack into your computer. If you do not protect yourself when using WiFi, it will only make it easier for him.

One strategy is to keep user names and passwords in word processor files, rather than typing them directly into your browser. If you keep these files at ready and copy and paste the applicable information into the appropriate fields, you greatly lessen the chance that your information will be intercepted, even if your computer has been infected with a key logger.

Second only to employing a firewall, the most important step you can take to protect yourself when using public WiFi networks is to regularly run spyware removal tools. I have had great results with using Lavasoft’s AdAware.

Not only will regularly running this and similar programs increase the chance that your system is clean from malicious identity theft software; they can greatly increase performance as well.

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