Having a job that can be done from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection has its advantages. One such advantage that I haven’t previously made use of is the ability to travel and work at the same time. A luxury most people don’t have. With that in mind and an email that peaked my interest for an extremely cheap vacation, I decided to take advantage of my portable working situation.
Luckily Europe is quite handy to travel around and within a few hours from the United Kingdom you can be in a completely different culture, using different currency (well, at least if you don’t use the Euro already) and most importantly at this time of year, a complete change of weather.
Travelling and working means relying on Wi-Fi hotspots, even those who travel just for a vacation will find themselves in a similar position, with the lure to “just check Facebook” or one of the many other social media sites, very few people manage to avoid the social media trap on vacation these days.
The first port of call for Wi-Fi access is usually the airport, followed by a hotel of some sort and then the many bars, restaurants or other public Wi-Fi locations you’re likely to make use of. In fact as I sit writing this with a coffee in hand, enjoying the sounds of the Mediterranean waves splashing behind me in the warm early evening temperature of the island of Malta, I’m currently connected to the restaurant Wi-Fi.
Public Wi-Fi systems are extremely handy and have basically changed the way mobile workers, work. Not only that but they have also changed the way we communicate with family and friends even though you may be half way around the world.
While public Wi-Fi may be amazingly useful, it comes with a hidden issue and one that the public may not be aware of. Public Wi-Fi is not secure. There are a few pitfalls to be aware of when making use of public Wi-Fi and the main one is, you can’t trust the other users on the same network as yourself. There are plenty of publicly available tools that you can run on your own system while connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot that will allow you to login as other users of the same system who happen to be logged in to Facebook, Google+ or Twitter at the same time.
One of the most scary proof of concept tools that is available to everyone is known as Firesheep and it is surprisingly easy to use, in the words of the authors website :-
“After installing the extension you’ll see a new sidebar. Connect to any busy open Wi-Fi network and click the big “Start Capturing” button. Then wait.”
That’s it, the biggest concern is this tool is publicly available and can be used by anyone without technical ability. Further consideration should be given if you happen to connect to a public Wi-Fi network that a hacker or other clued up user is currently hiding on.
If you’re like myself and many other users out there, you will tend to put trust in names of Wi-Fi hotspots, while the one I’m currently connected to required a password of which I had to request from the service counter, earlier in the day while visiting a small fishing village called Marsaxlokk, I connected to a non-password protected Wi-Fi hotspot strictly on the basis that it had the same name as the bar I was having a drink in.
Although this is a poor security choice to make I was safe in the knowledge that my communications over the network and all the other public Wi-Fi systems I’ve been making use of while on vacation have been secure. The reason behind this is I’ve been travelling and using the LiquidVPN service.
Before I packed and left I made sure I installed Liquid Viscosity on my laptop, which was in the end a good move to make due to their TCP port 80 access points. I have struggled to connect to a VPN connection with a few other providers due to their port choices being incompatible on various public Wi-Fi systems, so it was definitely a bonus to take LiquidVPN with me because in some case the port 80 OpenVPN access of LiquidVPN was the only connection I could manage to connect to.
I actually forgot about my mobile phone so used the LiquidVPN config generator to generate a port 80 connection to the Romanian server that I then imported on to my android device to use with OpenVPN.
Travelling alone brings more quiet moments than travelling with someone else and with Maltese TV being slightly lacking on the English channels I found an added bonus of connecting to the LiquidVPN UK servers was I could access British on demand TV services such as BBC iPlayer, 4OD and ITV Player that have definitely kept me entertained in the quiet moments.
A final area that I had extreme difficulty with in the past was accessing Facebook abroad, due to increased security, Facebook automatically notices that you’re accessing from a different location and on occasion can block your account due to a new location. By connecting to the UK server of LiquidVPN I avoided any such issues by giving the impression to Facebook that I was still firmly in the UK, even though in reality I was enjoying the sun of Malta.
The last thing you want to do on vacation is be accessing the internet, but if you need to work while travelling or just want to check in with friends and family then a VPN is definitely a necessity tool for the traveller of today.