VPN Options for Mobile Devices

Every time you check your e-mail on your smartphone or other mobile device there's a good chance that you're giving someone else the opportunity to read it too: That's because when the Internet was designed it was assumed that everyone using it was trustworthy—there was simply no need to build in any security measures to keep information confidential as it traveled over the network.

Every time the e-mail client on your mobile device checks your e-mail, it's quite likely to be sending your user name and password over the network "in the clear," meaning it's not hidden, not encrypted, but out in the open for anyone eavesdropping on the network to see. The same is true for any files you look at and many Web pages you visit.

Although this has always been true for cell phones using the carrier networks to connect to the Internet, the problem is now much more acute because so many (perhaps most) new mobile handsets have Wi-Fi connectivity.

Most publicly accessible Wi-Fi hotspots at cafes, airports and hotel business centers are insecure. This makes it easy for a hacker to steal the user names and passwords that a mobile phone sends over the Wi-Fi link when accessing e-mail accounts or other computer systems, and also to monitor what a user is doing.

The solution is to use a virtual private network, or VPN, whenever you use your mobile device to connect to the Internet for anything but browsing to Web sites that you wouldn't mind other people knowing about.

VPN technology establishes a link between your phone and an end point. This end point could be a server on your organization's corporate network, your own computer at your office (if you work for a small company) or a server at a VPN service provider.

Once the VPN link is established, any Internet data that you send or receive is first encrypted before being sent over the link. This means anyone eavesdropping on your Internet activity at the Wi-Fi hotspot you are using may be able to intercept your Internet traffic, but since it is encrypted, they will be unable to read it.

If you work for a medium-sized or large company and use a BlackBerry or Nokia smartphone or a Windows Mobile device to collect your e-mail or connect to your corporate network, then you'll almost certainly be using a secure encrypted connection to a corporate server already. But what if you work for a smaller company that doesn't have its own VPN server? Or what if you simply want to ensure that your personal Internet usage is secure when you are using a mobile device of some kind?

The simplest solution is to use a VPN provider. This is a company that provides a VPN server as an endpoint for connecting your mobile device or smartphone. Once you connect to this server and the VPN link is established, any data you send to the Internet is encrypted between your phone and the VPN server, so other people can't read it. Once it arrives at the VPN server it is then decrypted and sent over the Internet in the normal way.

TAGS:

security, smartphone, VPN, cell phone, PDA
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