Protect yourself when using public unsecured wireless networks

Protect yourself when using public unsecured wireless  networks in shops, restaurants, hotels, libraries, etc.

The network settings in Windows 10 Anniversary Update

The network settings in Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Click on the image to view its full size

Never use unsecured wireless networks, because anyone could be monitoring them. If, say, while staying at a hotel, you are provided with a password to access the Internet over its wireless network and the staff tell you can use both a wireless and a wired connection that are both secure, any laptop or tablet that you use to make use of the wireless connection will tell you if the connection is secured or not. That is, if the connection is encrypted with WEP (cracked), WPA (cracked) or WPA2 (not cracked, so this is the one you should use).

A cabled connection does not broadcast a signal and is therefore is secure if there is no malware on the computer monitoring the connection, but for a wireless connection, you have to check that it is encrypted.

Manage wireless networks

To check the security in Windows 7 follow the following click path: Start => Control Panel => Network and Sharing Center => Manage wireless networks => The SSID (network name) of wireless network being used => Security: WPA2-Personal or WPA2-secured (this is the level of encryption being used for the connection).

Note that you can customise the SSID and wireless encryption key via a broadband router’s webpage-based settings. All Internet service providers provide the default username/password to access their router’s settings, usually on a card and/or on the bottom of the router.

In Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, Microsoft has done away with Manage wireless networks that is part of the Network and Sharing Center in Windows 7. With every update, Microsoft is moving more and more settings to Start => Settings. In Windows 10 the click path to network settings is Start => Settings => Network & Internet. Here is link to a video on managing wireless network in Windows 10. It includes showing how to make up for what is missing in Win10 compared to Win7 by using a third-party solution.

How to Manage Wireless Networks Windows 10 –

Wi-Fi Protected Access –

Disable file sharing in Windows

If there is none of the above-mentioned wireless security, use the wired/cabled connection because even though only the hotel’s guests have been given the encryption login key, they could all access your computer if, say, file-sharing is enabled in Windows. You can disable file sharing in all versions of Windows. If you need to know how to do that, web-search for: disable file sharing [your version of Windows].

Note that WPA2 encryption ends at the router in the room. After what your computer sends on the web gets past the router on to the hotel’s network, it is no longer encrypted and can therefore be read. That is why it is best to use a cabled Ethernet connection wherever possible.

Public or semi-public networks always have security weaknesses

When using any public or semi-public network there are numerous security weaknesses that people with the know-how can exploit. Therefore, it’s essential to use your own security methods.

Network location – Home, Work, or Public

The first measure to take is to make Windows assign the type of network location – Home, Work, or Public. To do that in Windows 7, follow this click path: Start => Control Panel => Network and Sharing Center. The one you must select is Public, which adjusts your Windows computer’s firewall rules and the Windows file-and-printer-sharing settings. The computer and its contents are also prevented from being visible to other computers on the hotel’s shared wireless network.

Change network type from Public to Private in Windows 10 –

HTTP Secure – https

The next step to take in overcoming unsecured wireless networks is to use https instead of http (see the link above, which uses http) in the URL addresses of the websites you visit. The s added to http makes the site use a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure connection that makes use of bidirectional encryption between the web browser being used and the website being visiting. Most banking sites and sites that require the user to enter login information use https by default.

Note that if a website does not support HTTP Secure, adding https to its URL won’t work.

HTTP Secure –

For example, enter into a web browser’s address bar and watch it change to The https provides 2048-bit end-to-end encrypted connections. Also note the green closed-padlock icon in the address bar, which indicates that it is a site that is using https encryption.

HTTPS Everywhere from “is a Firefox, Chrome, and Opera extension that encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure”.

Using a virtual private network (VPN) connection

Using a virtual private network (VPN) connection is the best way to maintain security on a public wireless network – to overcome unsecured wireless networks.

A VPN adds an additional layer of encryption between the connecting computer and the VPN provider’s server, which connects to the servers of the websites you access. Combined with HTTPS, a VPN provides a very secure wireless connection if the computer itself is free from malware and has file and printer sharing disabled. A VPN doesn’t take more than a few minutes to set up; thereafter connections only take seconds. VPN services are either free and supported by ads or paid-for costing a few US dollars.

Virtual private network –

If a wired Ethernet connection is available it’s best to use it instead of a wireless connection because doing so creates a direct connection from the user’s computer to the network, which is secure if your computer doesn’t have any malware infections and has file-and-printer-sharing disabled.

Shops don’t usually provide Ethernet connections but many hotels do, so it’s always a good idea to pack an Ethernet cable in your luggage when travelling.

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Opera, a fast, secure, easy-to-use web browser that provides a free VPN and ad blocker –