Going online these days exposes your PC to all kinds of cybernasties such as viruses and spyware. To combat them, we use anti-virus and...

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Going online these days exposes your PC to all kinds of cybernasties such as viruses and spyware. To combat them, we use anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

You also can subject yourself to a variety of hacker attacks, which try to steal your passwords, credit-card numbers, banking information and any other sensitive information you may have stored on your computer’s hard drive.

For those problems, we install firewalls that, we hope, let only the good data come in.

That’s all well and good when you’re using your computer at home or at the office. But what about when you take your portable computer to a hot spot?

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Hot spots are venues that offer wireless access to the Internet. Typical public hot spots include libraries, airports and commercial locations such as restaurants and coffee houses such as Starbucks.

It turns out that when you go wireless, the data to and from your computer is even easier to get than it is when you are directly wired to a network. After all, it’s being transmitted over the open air so it’s readily accessible.

One example of how hackers get your wireless data: Say you’re about to log on to your local Starbucks’ T-Mobile connection to gain access to the Internet. Nearby, an attacker with an ordinary laptop running special software can interfere with the hot spot’s legitimate network connection by sending a stronger signal from a base station positioned close to the wireless client (Starbucks), turning the fake access point into a so-called “Evil Twin.”

You see a Web site that looks identical to the legitimate T-Mobile log-on screen you normally see, asking for your user name, password or a credit-card number. But in fact, you are really logged on to the Evil Twin Web site. So when you enter in your account information, everything is being captured by the bad guys.

Some of the simpler Evil Twin sites will just say the service is temporarily down and that you should try again later. You leave never suspecting that sensitive information has been captured and stolen. More sophisticated Evil Twin sites may supply you with Internet access so that wherever you go, everything you type and receive is also being intercepted and stolen.

So what do you do?

AirDefense Personal is an end-user software agent that protects users of hot spots and other networks from wireless risks that could expose private data and transactions.

Richard Rushing, chief security officer of AirDefense, advises that you never give out proprietary information while using a hot spot. Just surf the Internet for casual purposes. Never use anything that requires a password or access anything that you wouldn’t want anyone else to know.

The other thing you can do is use AirDefense Personal. The software is specially designed to help reconfigure your computer’s operating system so it’s less susceptible to hacker attacks. For example, it disables Bluetooth and turns off bridging and ad hoc modes.

AirDefense Personal checks for suspicious behaviors, such as an unusually high amount of wireless data transmitted compared to what you ordinarily transmit. Best of all, AirDefense Personal is free.

So for the single average user, the “lite” version is all you’ll need. Currently in its version 2.0 release, AirDefense Personal can be downloaded from the company’s Web site at www.airdefense.net.

So enjoy the convenience of being able to wirelessly access the Internet. Just make sure you use common sense, caution and AirDefense Personal. With these precautions in mind, you’ll be more inclined to stay cool at your hot spot.