Disclosure - I'm not an IT or communications expert by any means. I rely on our firms IT resources and lean on them regularly.
Background to the point I wish to make - We use what is called a VPN (Virtual Private Network) capability for secure communications. I can't explain all the details and understand that with this in play data packets are encrypted between the source (for example my laptop) to the receiving system whether carried in the air or on a conductor of some type. With this feature I can log into a client's system from an open wireless network (unsecure access point such as the hotel I'm presently staying in) and have secure communications. We use the same approach for firm email - secure independent of the local access point. That's my understanding.
The issue - what security do I have when on an open wireless system (such as this hotel or a marina) when I'm not connected to our email server or to a client's system with my VPN app? In late 2010 Jeffery and Karen Siegel of Active Captain discussed this exposure in a couple newletters. They provided some background and suggested approaches for such situations. The newsletter articles were:
Open WiFi Dangers ... (https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2010-11-17.php
More on Open WiFi (https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2010-11-29.php
Https - ... and also VPN's 101 - Part 1 (https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2010-12-08.php
VPN's 101, Part 2 (https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2010-12-15.php
VPN Selection (https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2011-01-05.php
Essentially they suggested subscribing to a service that provides VPN features when needed. So at the moment I'm working from my room in a hotel that has an open WiFi - no password required to use their network access point. My approach is to connect to their network and before I go to a web page where I might enter a password - such as to login to make this reply - I open the Witopia private VPN application - one of the services they evaluated and recommended. I then connect to their system and work through their network. I don't notice any response drag and have a secure connection.
Again this is how I understand things so stand to be corrected as necessary. Perhaps this is all outdated since it's nearly two years old.