Wifi is a wireless networking technology that is used around the world. A wifi, or wireless, network uses radio waves, just like cell phones, televisions and radios do. In a wifi network, computers with wifi network cards connect wirelessly to a wireless access point or “router.” The router is connected to the Internet via a cable or DSL modem. Any user within 300 feet or so of the access point can then connect to the Internet. Wifi networks can either be open, where anyone can access them, or closed, where users need a password to access them. An area that has public wireless access is called a wireless hotspot.
If you’ve been in an airport, Starbucks, library or hotel recently, chances are good that you’ve been right in the middle of a wireless network. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, wifi operates in more than 750,000 hotspots around the world. Soon, wifi networks will become so widespread that you will be able to access the Internet wirelessly from just about anywhere. You most likely have a wireless router/access point in your home which uses exactly the same technology.
The Inherent Weaknesses of Wifi
Many of us assume that using a wifi network at a hotel or airport is the same as logging into our network at home or at the office. But the risks of using wifi networks at a hotel or airport are exponentially greater than those experienced at home or in an enterprise setting. Business travelers willing to connect to any network that offers free Internet access are especially vulnerable to such attacks.
It is literally impossible to tell the safe networks from the bad ones. Wireless eavesdropping is possible everywhere. Only a small percentage of public networks prevent wireless eavesdropping, and many networks leave wifi users completely responsible for their laptop security, with extensive or complete file and service exposure.
Personal VPNs and What They Are Used For
The best way to protect your sensitive information is to use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, which encrypts the data moving to and from your laptop. The encryption protects all your Internet communication from being intercepted by others in wifi hotspots. In addition, Personal VPNs can prevent hackers from connecting to your laptop and stealing your data files.
A Personal VPN secures and privatizes data across the Internet by building an encrypted “tunnel.” Data passes through this tunnel, protected from anyone who tries to intercept it. Even if the data is intercepted, it is hopelessly scrambled and useless to anyone without the key to decrypt it.
Most large companies have a company-support VPN to protect corporate communications. VPN provides the same capability for individuals, business travelers, and small and medium-sized enterprises.