Do I even need my Internet service provider?
NetZero home page, offers the complete set of spy software in case, you know, you're curious

OnGuardOnline's article on using public wifi safely

Microsoft's short article on wifi safety

Article “What is a VPN?”

Can a VPN protect you from government surveillance? Sure, says this guy... it can't, according to Edward Snowden

Hotspot Shield's home page

Hotspot Shield review in

Hotspot Shield review in PC World

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Thomas Computer Services Web Site
Cable and phone company Internet service is getting more expensive every year and now costs about $50 per month, minus discounts for new users. Painfully slow dial-up Internet access is still available from NetZero for only $9.95 per month. But there are free wireless connections, called “hotspots,” available in every community. Local senior centers, libraries, the YMCA, and Starbucks and a host of other commercial brick-and-mortars offer them. Of necessity, they are open and unencrypted (unscrambled.) Passwords would be useless because everyone would know them. Is it possible then to permanently forsake cable and phone company Internet service and instead use ONLY these freebie hotspots?

It could be done. You'd need a laptop or other portable device, and because of hotspot openness, there are security issues. There could, for example, be someone with bad intentions close enough to be connected to the same free hotspot at the same time as you, say in his house next door, or in his car, or just at the next table. This supposed bad guy only has to be smart enough to download and master a spy utility, like Softactivity's Activity Monitor, that enables him to secretly monitor the keystrokes of any other person on the same wireless network. There are steps you can take to foil the eavesdropper: be aware that such threats exist, use strong passwords, turn off network discovery and sharing, and turn off your wireless adapter when you're not online (all laptops have a switch for this purpose right on the keyboard somewhere.) Keep your firewall on and set to “public”, and see to it that all your software is up to date, especially your anti-virus. When shopping or banking, keep one eye on the address field of your browser and make sure every page where you enter information about yourself has an address that starts with https://, and not just http://. The extra 's' means the connection is securely encrypted and safe to use.

What's a VPN?
Or, you could get virtual private network (VPN) software. Business travelers have been using it for years for secure remote access to their company networks. VPNs have evolved to provide the same level of secure Internet communication for consumers to use, and now make it easy to surf the web anonymously, and shop and bank online privately and securely, even when connected to an open, wireless hotspot, like Starbucks'. It works by encrypting all communication to and from any web site you browse, and by rerouting that connection through a secure server. This way, it turns http into https, and also exchanges your IP address with that of the VPN server, effectively masking your Internet identity. No one can find out where you connect from or see what you do online, not even the NSA.

One popular VPN is called HotSpot Shield Elite. It installs and sets up very easily, and you can try it for free or sign up for a whole year's worth of service for only $29.95. Kind of beats $50 a month, but you still have to get the laptop close enough to a free hotspot to use it. While there, it's also a good idea to keep an eye out for shoulder-surfing snoops who may just be monitoring your keystrokes the old fashioned way-- by watching which keys you press.
February 7, 2014

John G. Thomas,  your all-natural geek for

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