You likely wouldn’t suspect a thing. After all, like you, lots of people go to coffee shops to work on their laptops. Yet it’s a fact that these same people sitting to your right and left may be using that unsecured Wi-Fi connection to snoop through your files on your own computer. This is why it’s important to protect yourself.
I know. I spent five years of my information technology career traveling all over the country performing security audits. Companies paid me to sit in their parking lots with a laptop to try to hack into their wireless networks. If I succeeded — and many times I did — I then told the IT staffs at these companies how I did it. Surprisingly, many businesses made silly mistakes that allowed someone like me to “get in.” And this is not just a problem for businesses. It’s also an issue for homeowners, and for people who use free Wi-Fi while sipping coffee in donut shops, or at airports. So here’s how to protect yourself.
When you’re going to use a public hotspot, it’s important to make sure that you keep network discovery and file or print sharing turned off. There’s no need to place yourself at risk by having it turned on, even if you feel safe by having password-protected file activated. If you have network discovery turned off, your mobile device won’t even show up when someone goes searching for other computers through network neighborhood. Visual Basic shell scripts online can be run against a password-protected file share to hack out a simple username and password in a matter of minutes. Only when you are at home or behind a corporate firewall should you feel safe to turn network discovery, file and print sharing — password protected or otherwise — back on.
Here’s how to protect yourself if you are using Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8:
1. Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel (if you’re using Windows 8, press Windows-Q, and type in “control.” The Control Panel icon should appear.)
2. Select “Network and Sharing Center” (or “Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options” on Windows 8), then click on “Change Advanced Sharing Settings.”
3. Under “Private Current Profile,” check “Turn off Network Discovery” and “Turn off File and Print Sharing.”
4. Click the down arrow to show the Guest or Public network settings.
5. Check “Turn off Network Discovery” and “Turn off File and Print Sharing.”
6. Click the down arrow to show the All Networks Sharing options. Check “Turn off File and Print Sharing.”
7. Click “Save Changes.”
To turn off file sharing for a Mac, follow these steps:
From the Apple menu, click System Preferences. In the System Preferences window, click the Sharing icon. You will see the Sharing window. Confirm that the check box in front of File Sharing does not contain a check mark.
If it does, click to remove it. Removing a check mark will disable file sharing on your computer.
If you follow these steps, no one will see your device the next time you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Allen Van Hoosier is a senior Linux and Unix systems analyst for SS&C Technologies Inc. He may be reached at 812-266-2045, 812-459-9929, and firstname.lastname@example.org.