When I was a kid, you had to be plugged into a wall outlet to use the Internet. Having a laptop was no fun, because the best you could do was plug a public ethernet cable into it. The things can’t run the games a desktop can, and their shelf life and upgradability (or, rather, lack thereof) made them a poor computing choice.
When Life Hands You Lemons
These days, free WiFi is a lot more prolific than it was back then, as universities, municipalities, and corporations scramble to provide connectivity on the go. High-speed wireless Internet access has become to brick-and-mortar businesses what water and lemon wedges are to the restaurant industry.
McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks have it, so do Home Depot, Lowe’s, Safeway, Barnes & Noble, Marriott and Hilton (for club members), and a variety of bars, diners, grocery stores, and other establishments (though not Wal-Mart). If you’re in America and don’t live within 100 miles of one of these places, tell no one, lest they build one.
AT&T has been around the block, getting customer-accessible WiFi into the hands of major businesses. Over the last few months alone, I noticed McDonald’s upgrading from default Waypoints to McDonald’s Free WiFi networks. Home Depot and Safeway are still on the default networks, but they’ve been quickly implementing rules to block file sharing sites.
The Problem With Public Connections
I’ve been in this game long enough to know you don’t care about online security, and I’d waste my time convincing you of the many vulnerabilities because it just isn’t important to you.
An issue that’s come up you may be interested in (aside from speed, as YouTube and Netflix can be choppy), is these networks appear to be running behind proxies that Hulu can’t recognize for advertising purposes.
It’s nice to know these megacorporations are protecting my privacy against the Internet, but I’d still prefer a bit more club card data transparency instead.
In order to enjoy a free Internet on these free public WiFi networks, you’ll need to run a VPN or proxy. It may take a minute to set up, but once you get used to it, you’ll soon be accessing The Pirate Bay or whatever blocked sites you want, from anywhere.
Differences Between VPN and Proxy
Ok, so a proxy is a VPN, but a VPN is not a proxy, much like how many companies outsource, but not all outsourcing is off-shoring. If I need to dumb it down more, all Justin Beibers are douchebags, but not all douchebags are Justin Beiber.
The difference is with a proxy, you’re rerouting your web browser and torrent traffic, whereas on a VPN, you’re rerouting all network traffic, essentially mimicking another network. There’s also public and private VPNs and proxies you need to understand the difference between.
With a public VPN/proxy, you’re sending your traffic through someone else’s network. It’s similar in function to a cloud service. Imagine a public VPN/proxy as cloud-based Internet. In doing this, the network you’re on (McDonald’s, for example) will only see you sending data back and forth to this proxy address. The public proxy will allow you to access most sites, except Hulu. For Hulu, you need a private VPN.
A private VPN is a proxy server you set up within your home network. If you have a home desktop (or, even better, server) that’s always on, you can reroute all your traffic through that. This is the most secure option, as you’re in complete control of your own security, however public proxies are still quite useful, and can be used in conjunction (creating a string effect, like you see in those spy movies when they trace a call).
Quick and Easy Software
For a good proxy program, I used to use HMA! (stands for Hide My Ass!) Pro VPN. The $11.95 monthly fee is the only online subscription I paid for on the road until I learned it’s not safe. HMA will sell you out to anyone who asks. Now Privoxy and Hamachi are all I use.
To set up a VPN, I wrote a handy guide on HuffPost a while back.
Once you have the hang of these programs, there’s nothing you can’t access on the Internet, whether you’re at home, school, work, or on the go. I’ve been on the road for the better part of three years and have been surfing the net my whole life. If there are any topics you’d like to know more about in future posts, let me know in the comments below…