Is the WiFi in Your Local Coffee Shop Safe to Use?

Is the WiFi in Your Local Coffee Shop Safe to Use?

By Terry Stockdale for TerrysComputerTips.com

Are you safe when you use the wireless network at your local coffee shop or airport? Maybe. Maybe not.

Are you accidentally sharing your files on your computer? Is your computer “trusting” connection attempts from the other computers at the hostspot?

Reader Sam Boggs wrote to ask:

Terry:

To improve security when using Wi-Fi at a coffee shop or traveling, I’ve seen advice to uninstall “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks” on the active wireless connection in the Properties menu of Control Panel Network Connections. Is it necessary to do this – is there any downside to uninstalling this? Would it be sufficient to uncheck the box, or do I need to fully uninstall it?

I guess another way of asking this question is, What is the purpose of this Sharing feature? I’m reluctant to delete something I might need.
Also, do I need to do make this change every time I go to a new hotspot (or even to the same hotspot), or will once do it for all future Wi-Fi logins?

Sam

Well, Sam, that’s like using a cannon to kill a mosquito (assuming you actually could hit the mosquito). It will kill the mosquito, but it’s going to cause quite a bit of collateral damage.

Damage?

In Windows 98, Me and Windows XP, “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks” is not turned on by default. You actually have to install it manually in order to share files or share printers across your home (or business) network. Of course, since any manufacturer can pre-configure Windows the way he wants, it _could_ come already installed on a computer.
Yes, if you uninstall File and Printer Sharing, that will prevent others at the coffee shop from being able to see and access the files on your notebook computer. Unfortunately, those are only a few of the TCP and UDP ports that could open your computer to access by others.

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This post is excerpted with the permission of Terry’s Computer Tips.

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2 thoughts on “Is the WiFi in Your Local Coffee Shop Safe to Use?

    • The article addresses multiple versions of Windows, including Windows 7 considerations. While originally written in the early days of Windows 7, it has been updated several times since then.

      It addresses security issues applicable to multiple versions of Windows when using non-home WiFi systems .

      Not everyone has upgraded to Vista, Win7 or Win8. Older versions of Windows (Win98 and WinXP) – which some readers still use – have special issues that Vista and Win7 users don’t have to worry about, so those are also addressed.

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