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Advantages & Disadvantages of Wireless Internet Access Points & Cyber Cafes

by Laurel Storm

Stand anywhere in a city, spin around and start walking in a random direction, and it's very likely you'll find an Internet access point of some persuasion within five minutes -- in fact, you would probably find it surprising if you couldn't locate one. Cyber cafes are undeniably a great way of getting your caffeine fix and your Internet fix at the same time, but using a network that doesn't belong to you does have downsides as well as upsides.

Access When You Need It

The ubiquity of public Internet access makes it easy to get online when you need it, no matter where you are. Even if you are carrying a smartphone, connecting to a wireless hot spot typically results in a faster and more stable connection than the one you would get by using your phone's mobile network. If you work remotely, carrying your laptop to the nearest coffee shop or library and using the Internet there can give you a change of environment and a breath of fresh air when you need one.

Cost and Convenience

Many locations offer Internet access either free of charge or for a small fee, such as the purchase of a coffee. If you only rarely need to get online, it may be cheaper and easier to head to a cyber cafe than to pay a monthly fee to an ISP for a service you would barely use. Similarly, if you're traveling to a different country for some time, taking advantage of wireless access points to check your mail and get in touch with family and friends may be cheaper and easier than making arrangements for a steady connection.

Privacy

Locations that offer Internet access can be crowded. Although most people are there to mind their own business, not yours, there is always the chance somebody will accidentally or deliberately interrupt you when you least expect it. If at all possible, avoid visiting websites concerning subjects you consider personal or private when you're in a public place. Use the "grandma rule" -- if you wouldn't want your grandmother to look over your shoulder and see it on your screen, chances are you wouldn't want a complete stranger to do so either.

Security

Public computers are frequently lousy with viruses and other malware, as some people are less careful with them than they would with their own computer and others simply don't know any better -- so be wary of transferring any files from such computers to your USB key. Even if you're using your own laptop, a malicious third party can intercept what you are doing and obtain usernames, passwords and other private information without you noticing. Before connecting to a wireless hot spot, ensure your anti-virus and firewall software are up to date. Above all, regardless of whether you're using a public computer or your own, avoid logging in to websites containing sensitive data, such as your bank if the mobile hot spot is unsecured, i.e. did not require a password.

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