"Fast, free Wi-Fi sounds handy, and it is, but we’ve written about the
potential problems with open Wi-Fi hotspots several times before.
One handy countermeasure is to use a VPN, short for Virtual Private Network.
Of course, many free Wi-Fi networks make you jump through some sort of
simple authentication process first, directing you to what’s called a
captive portal – a special web page that pops up in place of the site
you’re trying to visit.
Captive portals may ask you to accept various terms and conditions, show
you a few ads, or ask you for some sort of identifier to track your usage.
The latter is common in hotels, often to differentiate between paying
guests, day visitors attending a conference, and unentitled passers-by.
In other words, even if you want to use a VPN, you typically need to
spend a short while online with your network shields down, until you can
get past the captive portal.
Here’s what happened in my hotel during my brief “shields down” period:"