Today I was requested to provide a few recommendations for safely browsing the web while on a public wifi. Always happy to oblige...here it is.
Unsecured networks - such as a public WiFi hotspot - can be absolutely great for saving you money. However, these networks are not always the safest to use without some additional protection.
Besides making sure to have updated Firewall and Anti-Virus software, you should also consider setting up a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN creates a private "tunnel" to route your internet traffic securely.
The first method for securing your connection is to setup your own VPN server at home, then connect to the VPN from any public network. The best software I could find for this is OpenVPN. This software would allow you to setup your own private network directly connected to your home network...and would be the safest option. However, it is not easy for the average user to setup, and there may be licensing fees involved.
An alternative which is almost as safe as using your own home VPN is to use HotSpotShield. This software allows you to connect to their company's servers and not your own. A free (ad-supported) version is available as well as a monthly fee version. If considering this for regular use I would recommend paying the $29.95 per year.
A third option which is slightly more risky is to use Tor. This option is considered more risky because you're routing through several random servers on the Internet. The network is 100% user supported with no ads. However...you have very little guarantee of being on a secure "exit node"...and could possibly end up with an exit node setup to monitor your every browser click.
Finally, no matter what option you select, consider installing "HTTPS Everywhere". This add-on enforces HTTPS whenever possible on most websites - and provides for an additional layer of security.
Do you have any additional tips for securing your connection over an unsecured wifi network? Please feel free to share in the comments below.