Helping you balance your online life

The Hidden Danger of Planes, Hotels and Coffee Shops

Montage of people on the move using wireless technology

It’s not that difficult to hack into information being sent and received over public WiFi on a plane, in a coffee shop or even at a hotel. You just need a laptop, special software and a base knowledge about what tools can record and decipher the information. That’s why Kent Lawson decided to come out of retirement after 12 years—to work on a way to help keep us all safer when we use public WiFi. He created PRIVATE WiFi to give people more control over their own information.

AOL recently had the chance to ask Lawson some questions about public WiFi and online security, and here’s what we learned.

AOL: You had been retired for 12 years when you started Private Communications Corporation and its flagship product, PRIVATE WiFi. What inspired you to create this product and company?

Kent Lawson: The mobile lifestyle was taking over and WiFi was going to become ubiquitous and it was inherently unsecure and needed protection. To my great surprise, when I looked around at what others were doing, nobody was really focusing on that aspect of the need to provide protection. I felt then and feel now that it is the largest unmet security need, for individuals at least, in the field.

AOL: Is it true that WiFi you pay for, say at a hotel or on a plane, is more secure than free WiFi?

Kent Lawson: That’s not at all true, in fact it’s a dangerous misconception. The most expensive paid WiFi is when you’re on an airplane, and all of the communications are completely open. You can listen in to anybody using Wi-Fi on the plane. And similarly, in many hotels you pay for WiFi and it’s completely unsecure. So, free WiFi and paid WiFi are equally unsecure. The only WiFi that is reliably secure is your WiFi at home, assuming you have set up your network correctly, and in your office. Those are the only places that you can use WiFi without some kind of protection.

AOL: What does Private WiFi do?

Kent: Whether you’re using a PC or Mac, or iPhone or android, PRIVATE WiFi encrypts everything that is being sent and received from your device to a remote server, and thereby protects the privacy of your communication both coming and going across that place where it’s most vulnerable. It encrypts everything being sent and received, because it’s being sent over radio waves that can be hacked into by anybody.

AOL: Who would you recommend PRIVATE WiFi to?

Kent: Very seriously, I think that everybody needs it. Our lifestyle has become so mobile at this point and every security person recommends encryption and VPNs. Unless you never use your device in a mobile fashion and you never take your laptop, phone or tablet away from your home network, you have to have a VPN installed. It’s impractical to say to people, “Be careful what you do online when you’re on public Wifi.” Our lifestyle is just too mobile at this point.

Think about the number of people who have confidential client information—lawyers and accountants and real estate professionals and so on—and work outside their offices. Think about the amount of confidential information being dealt with in public. Somebody goes to a meeting and they stop at Starbucks and have a cup of coffee and send some emails and there’s a lot of confidential information there. People have to protect themselves with a VPN.

Learn more about PRIVATE WiFi here.