WSPA’s Amy Wood (@TVAmy) had a great segment on last night (2011-02-07) in which she had Doug Cone (@nullvariable) a local web/graphics “devsigner” discussing the dangers of using public Wi-Fi. You can find that story here.
He demonstrated a tool which allows even the most novice of “hackers” to see a list of others who are using any given open wireless access point. He did this at a coffee shop and then went around and scared the bejeebus out of people by showing them how much information was at his fingertips.
In a discussion on Facebook the other day with Doug and Russell Tripp (@RussellTripp), I suggested that those two get together and product a video showing the same information in depth and then explaining how to protect yourself from this all-too-real security threat. I believe they may be doing that as a follow-up to the WSPA story and will post that information here as a reply when that becomes a reality.
In the mean time, I thought I give some info about one tool that is both readily available and super-affordable that you can use to secure your connection when using a public Wi-Fi hotspot. That tool is a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. Yes, the same VPN technology that has been around for a very long time and used in businesses and larger corporations, and it is so easy, a caveman could do it. (I’m sure a lawsuit is forthcoming for my use of that slogan)
A VPN connection established to your home will allow you to connect to the open wireless network of your choice, build a “tunnel” to your home connection, and then send all traffic through the wireless network through the encrypted tunnel, providing a very secure transport.
All that is needed is a VPN capable router or firewall at your home. But wait, you say you can’t afford a Cisco ASA 5505 (or WatchGuard or SonicWALL security appliance). That’s okay, you don’t need one.
You may already have a compatible home router that can be setup with the free DD-WRT (the website http://www.dd-wrt.com has a list of compatible routers) which provides VPN capability to your 40 dollar Linksys or similar device!
The setup is pretty straight-forward once the device end is ready. Connecting takes only seconds.
The VPN is not just for Microsoft Windows, but also Apple Mac OSX, iPad, linux, freebsd, solaris, etc. Most smartphones including Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile and Blackberry should have the ability to utilize your VPN too.
If you don’t have a compatible router, you could optionally use OpenVPN on your PC, and last but not least, you could use the OpenVPN HOSTED service. The hosted solution comes with a price tag, but for many it may be worth it to protect their privacy.
If you are fortunate enough to work for a company with a VPN already in place, you could probably use that as an option, assuming the IT policy permits you to do so.
Should you require assistance in Greenville or the Upstate for your personal or business VPN needs, we are partners with Cisco, WatchGuard, SonicWALL, ZyXEL and have a solution that is right for you. Call 864.990.4748 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.