Securing Your Starbucks Experience
Source: Wayne Rash - Posted by Joe Shakespeare   
Wireless Security The original plan for this column was to write it at my neighborhood Starbucks while sipping down some good old French Roast and getting my blood caffeine level into the quadruple digits. Alas, it was not to be. My T-Mobile account seems to have expired; the Washington, DC, area was clobbered by a massive 3-inch snowfall, making travel impossible; and worst of all, Starbucks has all those high-carb goodies there at the coffee counter. I couldn't take the risk.

But one thing that wouldn't have been risky is using the T-Mobile hotspot at my local Starbucks. I could have settled in next to the fireplace (we have a nice Starbucks) and written my column, knowing that prying eyes would never see it before it reached my editor. The reason? I know that my ISP uses a secure connection to its Web mail site, so that anything I do there is encrypted using SSL.

But before you just assume that everything you do at a convenient hotspot is safe, there are some things you should know.

First, unless you absolutely know otherwise, assume that every hotspot you're likely to encounter is totally open and unsecured. This means that anything you send between your laptop and the access point is in the clear, and anyone sniffing the signals will be able to read everything that goes to or from your computer. This is definitely the case with public access wireless, if only because anything else would likely be unmanageable for the provider. So when you're sitting at scenic San Francisco Airport using those Centrino stations, whatever you do can be seen by anyone in the terminal.

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