Surfing In Public Places Is Not Safe


How safe are my data when I surf the Net or send and receive e-mail in an airport or hotel lobby?


Wireless surfing in public places leaves you vulnerable to many hazards. The major risk is unscrupulous people who use packet sniffers to capture packets of data as they pass between a computer and the wireless access point. The sniffers are software programs (many of which can be downloaded free online) capable of grabbing passwords and credit card numbers. If your wireless access is via a VPN (virtual private network), you’re safer because of its built-in encryption.

Other dangers lurk, too, when you use a public computer in a hotel. Because e-mails you send and receive and the Web sites you visit leave traces on the computer, the person sitting down at the computer after you may be able to access the information if you don’t actively erase it. Or the computer could have a secretly loaded program (called a keylogger ) that copies and transmits your keystrokes to some remote location.

One low-tech security problem is the eavesdropper—that guy who sits next to you in the airplane and cranks his head so he can read what you have on your screen. For less than $50 you can buy a notebook privacy filter, which makes it impossible to view the screen from an angle.


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