Whether you are on your home or office network or seeking out a free connection on public Wi-Fi, there are known risks that can be managed simply by using a free VPN.

#1.Outdated operating system-critical security patches. When an operating system is released, it often is secure—or at least as it can be for the moment. But once good-guy and bad-guy hackers take a look at iten masse, they discover vulnerabilities. When on an unprotected network, criminals can use software programs that search out vulnerabilities from outdated, unpatched software on your devices; once found, they use whatever tools are available to take advantage of those vulnerabilities and dig deeper into your devices.

#2.Unsecured wireless. Unencrypted Wi-Fi networks at home or in the office, or on the road at coffee shops, airports and hotels, are vulnerable to sniffers. Sniffers read the wireless data as it travels through the air and converts it so other computers (and those who administer them) can read it in words, numbers and computer code.

#3.Poorly secured wireless. Protected Wi-Fi that employsWEP, or Wired Equivalent Privacy, is vulnerable. WEP, introduced in 1997, is the original version of wireless network security. Over the past decade and a half, however, WEP has been cracked, hacked and decimated.

#4.Sharing network passphrases. You might share a wireless connection with people you trust. Perhaps you have roommates, or you live in a condo or apartment and like your neighbor so much that you give her your passphrase so she can hop on your wireless internet. But by doing this—and no matter how nice your network-sharing friends may be—you are letting other devices scoot by the encryption your router employs.

#5.Hijacked cookies.Session hijacking is when you log onto a website and your login data is stored via a cookie—a small bit of code that lets the website know you are logged in. If HTTPS isn’t used and these cookies aren’t encrypted—which, often, they are not—an attacker can copy that cookie onto his or her device and surf on that device just as though it were yours. You’ve been hijacked!

#6.Man-in-the-middle attack. When you are on an unprotected network and another device intercepts or eavesdrops on your internet communications, then communicates with the designated website acting as thoughit is you, the other device communicates with the website—and the website has no idea it is communicating with an attacker.

The easiest way to avoid all this drama is by protecting your devices’ wireless communications witha free VPN likeHotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield VPN protects your entire web surfing session, enables private browsing while securing your connection at both your home internet network and publicInternetnetworks.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft expert consultant to Hotspot Shield VPN. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security onGood Morning America. Disclosures.

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