As I’ve written many times in the past, everything done online while traveling, using a wifi hotspot at a park or cafe, or even while staying in a hotel — is easily exposed to prying eyes and hackers.
That’s why it was so refreshing to see the “world’s leading” provider of wifi call hotspots inherently insecure, and that individual users need to take responsibility for their privacy and security.
Indeed, their #1 recommendation is to use a personal VPN.
Key Items Of Note
Boingo’s sentiments — along with recent recommendations from the WiFi Alliance — clearly echo our own thoughts. Here are some things of note from the company’s new white paper on wireless security that are spot on among leading privacy experts:
- The company is now directly and forcefully recommending that “All users of public networks should employ a VPN.”
- The white paper also says “an unprecedented number of risks threaten users’ safety at publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots.” While there are some things that the wifi provider can do to protect the user, “users still need to take steps to protect themselves. People who use public hotspots – which constitutes a large percentage of the on-the-go population – need to be diligent to protect themselves against risk.”
In an accompanying press release, Niels Jonker, Boingo’s CTO, says this about wireless hotspots:
- “The single most reliable means of security when using public wifi is a personal VPN.”
- He says “open wifi is inherently unsafe.”
- With the “proliferation of unmanaged free networks and new hacker exploits, people need a tool to protect their personal information while they’re online.”
Taking Charge of Responsibility In Hotspots
Essentially, Boingo’s message is that users have to take responsibility for their own security in hotspots and the #1 way is by using a VPN.
A VPN simply uses a public network to communicate securely between two points. The security is provided by encryption, and the two sides must both use the same encryption algorithm and key for it to work. This means that no one else can understand, or more importantly, modify the information being communicated.
That is important because you have no control over those radio waves that are bouncing around Starbucks or the airport lounge.
When you use a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi, it installs a small piece of software on your PC, which does the encrypting and decrypting. It connects automatically to a remote server which decrypts your communication and sends it on to the ultimate destination – whether that is an email account, a SMS user, or a shopping site.
We already use firewalls and antivirus software to protect our computer from being hacked. Many of us are turning off file sharing as well — a wise move indeed.
Similarly, Boingo is now confirming what I’ve long recommended, and that is how everyone needs a VPN to protect their communications from hackers in wifi hotspots.
It is the last major unprotected risk.