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Unsecured Wireless on Your MacBook

Free Internet access is cool, it’s convenient, and public access wireless networks keep popping up more and more all over the world. New Orleans has upgraded to citywide free wireless Internet access, which is perfect for checking your e-mail on your MacBook while you’re catching beads or listening to jazz. Many more cities are certain to follow in the near future.

However, just because something is free doesn’t mean that it’s safe. (Impromptu bungee jumpers, take note.) Unfortunately, the free public wireless access you’re likely to encounter is not secure: Anyone can join, and the information you send and receive can be intercepted by any hacker worthy of the name.

A public network uses no WEP or WPA key, so no encryption is involved, and therefore no guarantee that your private e-mail, your company’s financial spreadsheets, and your Great American Novel aren't being intercepted while you’re uploading and downloading them in the airport.

If you must use your laptop on an unsecured public network, make sure that the connection itself is secure, instead. For example, don’t check your e-mail using a Web browser unless your ISP or e-mail service offers an encrypted SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection.

If you need to establish a secure connection with your home or office network, use an SSL-enabled Virtual Private Network (VPN) client, which allows you to transfer files and remotely operate a host computer with bulletproof security.

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