Wi-Fi Wireless Hotspot Security - Personal VPN
 
December 9 2007 - Everywhere you go these days, someone is offering a wireless hotspot for you to connect to the internet. Some charge a nominal fee but many are free. Virtually every laptop manufactured today has Wi-Fi capability built in. With multiple computers in peoples homes, wireless is the easiest way to get all of them on the network. Coffee shops, cyber cafe's, fast food restaurants, hotels and even entire cities are now offering Wi-Fi. Whether it's free access or charged at some minimal cost per hour or day, the concept is the same. Everyone logs in to the wireless local network which then funnels your traffic to the land line internet connection. Everyone being logged into the same network means everyone can see each others data. Without a hotspot shield of some type protecting your connection your privacy and even your identity are at risk.

Use your personal VPN at cyber cafe

All of this easy access to the internet sounds great and it certainly has made surfing easier. Consumers and travelers are happy with these options but hackers --they're ecstatic! At a 2007 hackers conference in Las Vegas it was demonstrated over and over again how simple it was for them to hack Wi-Fi networks and see what everyone else on the network was doing. This included reading other peoples email and obtaining other private information including your location and name. Even such common tasks as using instant messenger (IM) can put you at risk. You may think, "who cares if someone can read my IM conversations" but think about it. Aside from the personal side of the data you are transmitting and the privacy that this hacking would breach, there are even safety risks to consider.  Let's say you agree with a friend to meet at a certain place on IM at a given time. The potential predator watching your conversation now knows exactly where you will be at a given time. You wouldn't accept this if it were a phone conversation and someone was listening in and you should not accept this on your IM conversations.

Information on how to hack wireless Wi-Fi networks is easily available to anyone. Even with wireless networks that require you to log in, getting access is trivial. What does this mean to you? Simply it means that anyone at the coffee shop, airport or hotel you are at has potential access to your data through the wireless network. It means that hotspot security has become a major problem that can only be erased by using a hotspot VPN. Most email systems either do not support encryption of your emails or are by default set to no encryption. If you are sending email at a wireless hot spot using the typical web based email account, everything you send is available to be seen on the network.

Computer geeks and large corporations have been aware of this problem for years. They equip themselves with special VPN software and servers that encrypt their data connection at the source, their computers. This encrypted tunnel starts at your computer and ends at a dedicated secure server on the internet, far away from the local Wi-Fi network. Creating this personal VPN (virtual private network) results in 100 percent security from eavesdropping at your local hotspot.

While there have been solutions for this out there for the average consumer for years, they are often complex and the free or do it yourself ones are very slow or otherwise limiting. We have recently become aware of a new Personal VPN solution at SurfBouncer, a company that is offering corporate strength WiFi VPN services with the simplicity of a one click install on your computer. You don't have to know anything about security certificates, encryption techniques, which ports to use or anything else. They run multiple servers in different locations for superior reliability. With a simple software download and a nominal subscription fee, you are secure whenever you are in an insecure location.

Does Surf Bouncer work and is it worth the price? We think it's a small price to pay for the complete information security that it provides. In addition they offer many features that other vendors do not. This includes user configuration of transport protocol and port address. What this means is that you can tweak your VPN to get around potential roadblocks some internet providers put in your way. Also offered is a VPN appliance, essentially a wireless router with the VPN embedded on it. This allows you to plug it into your home network in place of your current router and have all of your home traffic secured.

We were also impressed that they run servers on independent networks so that if some problem occurs at one data center the service will continue to function because of their multiple data center model. Their ability to put up new servers almost instantly to cover increased load is also a welcome feature as is their ability to change IP addresses whenever needed to keep customers up and running at all times.

There are other personal VPN vendors and many new ones coming online every day. Many of these are garage operations where someone takes their computer, throws some software on it, and running over their home cable modem starts up a company. While this software may work we don't recommend it. First, the reliability of such a setup is not likely to be very good. Most importantly, your security is at risk since all of your data is going through their garage computer and their shared cable modem service. Not only does this approach risk your data form snoopers on the cable modem service but the person putting the server up in his house could also be reading all of your data for their own purposes. What impresses us with Surf Bouncer is their use of the Amazon network. By investing in that kind of secure and bullet proof infrastructure they ensure server and data security on their end. You need to know that the server your data is flowing to is properly configured, all known security is properly set up and that it is behind a proper firewall system. With the SurfBouncer Personal VPN we are assured of this.

One final note, beware of "free" security solutions being marketed out there. These free solutions do to you what you are trying to prevent the hackers in the wireless cafe from doing. They are looking at all of your data and taking away things that they can use for future marketing and sales purposes. They are building databases with your supposedly secured data.

June 3 2009 Update: We have been informed by the company that they also operate a couple of alternate web sites to order the product. It seems their success has made them the target of censors in some countries who keep trying to block their web site. Although the blockages are temporary these alternate sites are there for immediate use.   securesurf.biz       unspyable.com

 

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