Scott Carmichael from the great travel blog Gadling published a post yesterday with tips on keeping your data safe when connecting to public wireless hotspots.  There are some really good tips for everyone here, but I wanted to add to a few of the options.

One of the recommendations is to get a 3G or 4G data card.  In working for a Telco for a few weeks, I did learn a thing or two about these networks and how laptops of employees can be locked down almost to be unusable.  This is definitely a fantastic recommendation but has two key drawbacks—cost and usability.

Untitled, by Chipmonkey

While data cards can be obtained reasonably cheap, and depending on how you connect to the internet in your various locations, it could replace your home broadband bill with some creative applications ((This is much more relevant in the UK where I’ve learned that data cards are used often in place of home-based high-speed internet)).  That said, if you are planning on traveling outside of your home coverage area, costs can quickly start to skyrocket (especially if you are crossing international borders).

Usability is affected by two separate items, 1) your equipment’s ability to use the card, and 2) the coverage area.  Most every laptop sold today can handle a 3G/4G card, but if you work for a company that manages your machine, you may not be able to use it once it is plugged in.  It’s not a capability issue, it’s a policy and permission issue.  If you travel often, you may notice that your 3G speed is now 2.5G or worse, you may not have coverage at all.  Roaming may also add charges to your usage.

One way to combat this is to use the MiFi mobile hotspot from Verizon.  If your machine can use WiFi, it should be able to connect to this hotspot and then ride the cell networks from there.  Just be sure you set up a sufficiently complex key.

Another tip was to use secure sites.  Using SSL is a sure way to add some security to your connection, but in some cases the connection can be spoofed.  This is definitely where a 3G/4G card can come in handy.

Some other basic tips like installing a firewall on your computer can be easily accomplished with modern operating systems.  Leopard and later from Apple have built in firewalls, and Windows XP and later have the same capability.  Just be sure you have it configured appropriately and not so loose that you can’t really call it a firewall anymore.  Even if you have it securely configured, remember that the majority of the attacks you will see will come from web pages and emails.

Check out the other tips and remember that there is an entire industry ready to use your computing resources to steal or earn money!

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