Take precautions when using public Wi-Fi networks

When you take your laptop to a library or café, you take a risk. But if you know what you're doing, you can minimize that risk.

Tctws Tan wanted to know about the dangers of using a public Wi-Fi network, such as the ones you find in cafes and libraries. "Is there any other method to increase my privacy?"

If Windows knows it's accessing a public network, it will hide your laptop from other computers and devices. That provides significant, but not perfect, protection. So you have to make sure Windows knows you're on a public network, and you need to take additional precautions.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

When Windows logs onto a Wi-Fi network that it doesn't recognize, it will ask you how it should handle security. And if for some reason it doesn't ask, you can manually make it bring up the question itself.

How it does this depends on your version of Windows.

Windows 7

When you log onto a new network, Windows 7 brings up a large dialog box where you can declare whether it's a Home, Work, or Public network.

If the dialog box doesn't come up, or you're not sure you gave the right answer, you should confirm that Windows knows it's a public network. Go to the Start menu's Search field, type network and, and select Network and Sharing Center.

Once there, you'll see the name of the network, and below that, the network type. The type is a link. Click that link, and you'll get to the same dialog box that was supposed to come up automatically.

Windows 8

When you log onto a new network, a panel will appear on the right side of the screen, asking if you want to find "PCs, devices, and content on this network." If it's a public network, select No.

If you want to make sure the setting is correct, go to the Search charm, type network, and select Network connection settings. Select your network. If the Find devices and content switch is turned off, Windows knows it's a public network. If that switch is on, turn it off.

 Other precautions

In theory, that should be enough. But it's wise to take additional precautions:

  • Make sure you're logging onto the right network. Double-check the network's name.
  • Never do anything financial on a public network. Don't contact your bank, and don't use a credit card.
  • If you keep sensitive files in an encrypted container, don't open it when you're on a public network.
  • Follow general precautions. Use a good firewall and antivirus program. And use different passwords for each site.

That should keep you acceptably safe.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags pcworldWiFiNetworkingsecuritywirelessWLANs / Wi-Fi

More about Click

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lincoln Spector

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts