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by Ray Carlson

Q. How do I avoid having someone steal my information while using a public Wi-Fi?

A. In an earlier column, we gave a limited answer, but some additional points might be helpful. First, if you are sending information you want to keep private, check to see if the site is encrypted. You can tell if the pages are protected by noting that the address header starts out with https: instead of http. Banks, credit card companies and webmail normally use such encryption, but sometimes they shift to pages they do not bother to encrypt, so check every time the page changes to make sure the address still includes the https.

When you finish using an encrypted site, make sure to log out. Another possibility is to use a virtual private network [VPN] that hides your address and encrypts your activity. The easiest is the free HotSpot Shield available here which adds advertising on each webpage you review. Another is Hamachi which is free if used only for personal activity, but it is more complicated and like HotSpot Shield will slow up browsing. If you have your computer set to share files with others on your home network, turn off file sharing and network discovery since everyone else on the Wi-Fi system is now part of your network. Finally, if you are using your computer in a location with free Wi-Fi and do not plan to go on-line, turn off your wireless connection to remove your computer from that network.

Published: Courier 7/18/10 - Page 5C