Wi-Fi has sprouted in some pretty odd locations in the past year, including the Washington State Ferries (in the waiting areas and on board); several airlines (for example, on Scandinavian Airlines and Lufthansa, thanks to Connexion by Boeing); and the Hampton Jitney, a shuttle service that takes Long Island residents from the Hamptons to Manhattan (and vice versa).
The ferries use a complex antenna system to connect to Wi-Fi stations at ferry docks; the planes employ phased-array antennas pointed at satellites, which relay traffic to and from ground stations; and the Hampton Jitney relays network traffic via a cellular data network.
When you connect at a Wi-Fi hotspot, all the data you send and receive—every password, e-mail message, and Web page—moves entirely in the open over the network. Any other user on the same network can extract information about you with free and easy-to-use software. But you can take some simple steps to secure your data.
> Use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to send and receive e-mail. This will protect your password and the contents of your messages. Not every ISP offers SSL e-mail, but most corporate systems and all the popular OS X e-mail apps—Apple’s Mail, Qualcomm’s Eudora, Bare Bones Software’s Mailsmith, and Microsoft Entourage—support it. To implement SSL in your particular client, check its Help menu. The dedicated mail service FastMail also offers SSL e-mail, as well as secure Web mail.
> Secure your Web browsing. Secure-Tunnel offers an OS X-compatible service that, for $3 a month, lets you browse the Web through an encrypted tunnel to its servers. Note that you don’t need this additional layer for already-secure pages.
> Employ a virtual private network (VPN), which encrypts all data traveling between your machine and a remote server. You can rent VPN service by the month from , or buy the Buffalo Secure Wireless Gateway ($160), which lets you set up a VPN server on your own network.