How to: Secure your online browsing on public networks

Chip Oglesby bio photo By Chip Oglesby

Like many people, you probably carry a cellphone and a laptop with you at all times. You might hop into a local coffeeshop or look for an open public wifi network to connect to check your email and do some quick browsing. Did you know that someone might be on the other end of that public wifi network monitoring your activity? They could be stealing your passwords, giving them access to your online social media profiles, bank accounts and amazon purchases, etc.

One way to protect yourself and information while surfing online is to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your device. It will allow you to privately surf on open or secured networks without people seeing your data online. After doing a lot of reading on Lifehacker about the best VPN service providers, I settled on Private Tunnel by OpenVPN. Private Tunnel provides five different tiers of service from free to $50 per year. I chose the $50 package which gives me 500 gigs of data transfer per year, more than I’ll probably ever need. It was also my main choice because it’s available for both Mac and Android, but there isn’t an iPhone option yet.

If you have an iPhone, search for VPN services in the app store. I found numerous options that have in app purchases where you can buy data as you need it.

In addition to keeping your data secure, it also allows you to bypass filters placed on public wifi hotspots. For example, some access points restrict access to sites like Hulu, Youtube, Netflix, etc. A VPN will allow you to bypass that and catch up on your favorite TV shows.