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Using Public Wi-Fi with Virtual Private Networking

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Submitted by Tim Roper on Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Whether you’re leisurely browsing the headlines at your local coffee shop or catching up on emails while you wait for your flight to board, just about everybody likes taking advantage of public Wi-Fi hotspots. But did you know that if you don’t take precautions, just about everything you do on a public network is visible to snoopers? This includes viewing webpages over an unencrypted connection, sending emails in plain text, and maybe even your passwords. Traffic between your computer and websites that use secure connections (look for “https” instead of “http” in the URL) is much more difficult for prying eyes to view. Many popular sites such as Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo!, and Microsoft Live use this method to keep your login credentials secure.

global networkBut what if you need to access your work computer or server remotely? This is where Virtual Private Networking (VPN) comes into play. VPN creates a secure “tunnel” that connects your laptop to your company’s private network. All information that passes through this connection is encrypted, meaning that even if someone were to capture the data as it travels, it would appear to them as gibberish.

VPN treats your portable device as a physical node on your company’s in-house network, even though it’s in a different geographic location (hence the “virtual” in VPN). This gives you access to files on the server, company databases, and possibly even printers. If your VPN service includes remote desktop capabilities, you’re able to run applications on your work computer just as if you’re physically sitting at your desk. VPN technology is quite user-friendly and provides a relatively high level of security. It’s a “Must Have” if you ever access your company’s network remotely, even from home.

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