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Use public Wi-Fi hot spots securelyPublic Wi-Fi hot spots might be handy, but they can also be dangerous. Find out how to surf safely on your laptop while drinking your latte.
-If you're using Wi-Fi at places like Starbucks or your local bookstore and go about your normal computer activity, it's time for a serious wake up call. Hackers, even amateur ones, are sitting around waiting for Wi-Fi happy people like you to connect to these unsecured networks and reveal their personal lives. I'm Sharon Vaknin with a how to on safely using public Wi-Fi hotspots. The first thing you should be aware of is that if a hotspot doesn't require a password, it's not secured. Don't be fooled. If a hotspot does ask for a password or guides you through a log in screen, you're still not secured. Here are a few things you should always do when connecting to a public network. Check to see that your firewall is enabled. It's like locking your own house. Windows and Mac both have built-in firewalls that are enabled by default, but here's one thing to modify: make it block all incoming connections. You can do this by going to your computer's security settings. Now, you should also disable file sharing, which allows people on your network to access shared files and folders. When you connect to a network for the first time in Windows, your computer will ask you what type of network it is or where you're connecting. Be sure to select public. This will automatically turn off file sharing for that network. If you're on a Mac, go to your sharing preferences and un-check those services. With these settings in place, you're already much safer, but there's always room for more security. I suggest installing a browser add-on called LastPass. It'll secure your passwords by storing them in the cloud instead of on your computer, where they're in plain sight for hackers. LastPass will also defend you from keyloggers, which record everything you type. HTTPS Everywhere is another great browser add-on that will force websites to give you a secured connection, so any activity will be confidential to you and the website. And if you're really paranoid, you can surf the hotspot through a VPN, or a virtual private network, which will make you complete invisible. SecurityKISS and Hotspot Shield are a couple of free VPNs. If you take these precautions, you're in good shape, but you still need to get in to the habit of doing things like checking the network name. Hackers will often setup fake networks like Free Starbucks Wi-Fi or Free Public Wi-Fi to lure you in. Check with an employee to confirm the name. And here's my last piece of advice: treat all open networks as a security risk. Don't do any banking, online shopping, or any activity that could potentially expose your personal information. If you wouldn't do it with a stranger looking over your shoulder, it can wait until you get home. For CNET.com, I'm Sharon Vaknin, and I'll see you on the intrawebs.