By now, we have all encountered wireless networking
somewhere. Its forms are many: home networks to share a
single Internet connection; wireless cards from providers like
Sprint to stay connected on the road; subscriber services so we can
“surf and latte” at Starbucks; wireless access for surfing through
mini-screens on cell phones and PDAs.
Here are some details to help you make the most of this new
If you want to find Internet hot spots near where you’ll be going
before you travel, a number of websites not only tell you where the
connections are, but who provides the service at what charge.
A search at JiWire (www.jiwire.com) for a remote location outside San
Antonio turned up 36 hot spots within 20 miles. Pick your spot and
click to generate a map with driving directions.
Most if not all of these sites charge for their access; visit
the Wi-Fi-FreeSpot Directory (www.wififreespot.com) to find spots that do not
charge. A possible snag: While you might be able to access the
Internet, your e-mail retrieval will be blocked unless you have a
web-based account. In other words, if you only can access your
e-mail through an application like Microsoft Outlook, you won’t be
able to get it through these free services.
Many major phone providers also sell wireless data services
(and provide the wireless card) for your notebook. The cards access
their networks only and work just about anywhere your cell phone
works, but they don’t roam the way cell phones do. In addition,
instead of a block of minutes, the data services sell monthly
blocks of downloaded data.
The catch: Surfing or not, you’re being charged as long as
you’re connected. Just log in and leave up the connection screen,
which displays the amount of data being sent and received. The
meter runs even when no data traffic is evident. It goes into
hyperdrive when you access a heavy graphics site like CNN.
It’s easy to max out even the largest monthly block; then you
enter the expensive realm of per-MB charges. If you use these
connections, either pony up for unlimited access or prepare to be
frugal with your connection time.
Early adopters of cell phones remember listening to conversations
between other parties when they changed towers, or when someone
with the same service provider and a stronger phone drove by.
The same phenomenon occurs with wireless data connections. A
new Peeping Tom has evolved, one who might be the company down the
hall or your neighbor. Not only can spies access the Internet by
secretly using a neighbor’s broadband wireless network, but they
can access her hard drives and intercept data she is sending.
For this reason, you must protect the personal information
available on your PC. Take these measures:
Make sure the drives on your PC are not marked to be shared.
This is probably the most overlooked security move. Many people
take a notebook back and forth to work and need to share their
drives when plugged into the office network. Simply forgetting to
change that setting when they log in from home opens up their PCs
Turn on encryption for your wireless service. Yes, this will
slow down the connection speed, but waiting a second or two for
encryption is much better than seeing your neighbor down the street
show up with new golf clubs you’re paying for.
Stay informed about updates to your operating system and
software. Most new releases have been issued precisely to provide
security and encryption.
For more information on wireless issues, check out eWeek (www.eweek.com).