How to protect yourself at wireless hot spots

They can be an invitation to disaster, says Preston Gralla, who offers a surefire plan to avoid security breaches

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Once you subscribe, you'll get a username, password and IP address of a wireless VPN server. At that point, you run a Windows network connection wizard, fill in the username, password and IP address information, and you'll be ready to go. In Windows XP, choose Control Panel-->Network and Internet Connections-->Create a connection to the network at your workplace. From the screen that appears, choose the virtual private network connection, and follow the wizard.

In Windows Vista, choose ControlPanel-->View network status and tasks. Then click "Set up a connection or network," and then choose "Connect to a workplace" and then "Use my Internet connection (VPN)." Follow the wizard after that.

Figure 4
Setting up a wireless VPN using Windows Vista (Click image to see larger view.)

Disable your wireless adapter

There may be times when you're at a hot spot when you actually don't want to connect to the Internet. In that case, you can guarantee absolute safety --- disable your wireless adapter so you can't connect.

If you have a wireless PC card, you can simply remove it, of course. If you have a wireless adapter built in to your PC, you can disable it. In XP, right-click the wireless icon, and choose Disable. If you're using the adapter's software to manage your connection, check the documentation to find out how to disable it.

If you're using Windows Vista, choose ControlPanel-->Network and Sharing Center. Then in the Connection area, click "View status," and from the screen that appears, click Disable.

Figure 5
Disabling a wireless adapter in Windows XP

Watch out for shoulder surfers

Think all hacking is high-tech programming? Think again. "Shoulder surfers" don't need to know how to write a line of code to steal your password --- all they need to do is peer over your shoulder as you type. So make sure no one seems to be paying too close attention when they're directly behind you.

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