Wi-Fi: 8 tips for working securely from wireless hot spots

Wireless (also known as Wi-Fi) hot spots, are changing the way people work. These wireless local area networks (WLANs)provide high-speed Internet connections in public locations (and at home). You can access them with a wireless-ready mobile PC, such as a laptopnetbooksmartphone, or any other mobile device equipped with a wireless card.
Hot spots range from paid services, such as T-Mobile or Verizon Wireless, to free, public connections. Hot spots are everywhere, including coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, bookstores, airports, trains, and hotel lobbies.
Many of these places will inform you that they have a hot spot for wireless Internet use and will tell you how to access it, including providing you with a password, if necessary. You can also use a directory to find a hot spot near you.

Are Wi-Fi hot spots safe?

Public hot spots all have one thing in common—they are open networks that are vulnerable to security breaches. Because they do not encrypt data, your passwords, email messages, and other information can be visible to hackers. That means it's up to you to be aware of wireless hot spot security and to protect the data on your PC or mobile device. In this article, we cover a few Internet security tips to make working on wireless networks in public locations more secure.

1. Disable your Wi-Fi adapter

When you’re not at home or at work, it’s a good idea to turn off your laptop or notebook’s Wi-Fi capability when you’re not using it. Otherwise your computer might connect to a malicious hot spot without your realizing it. Many laptops now have a Wi-Fi hardware button you can use to disable your Wi-Fi adapter. If yours doesn’t, you can disable your Wi-Fi adapter using your operating system.

Windows 7


Windows Vista

Windows XP



2. Try to choose more secure connections

Use a virtual private network (VPN)

It's not always possible to choose your connection type, but Internet security is critical. When you can, opt for wireless networks that require a network security key or have some other form of security, such as a certificate. The information sent over these networks is encrypted, and encryption can help protect your computer from unauthorized access. For example, instead of using a public hot spot with no encryption, use a virtual private network (VPN). If your business does not have its own VPN, you can download and install free VPN software. The security features of the different available networks appear along with the network name as your PC discovers them.

Protect your email with https

One way to protect your email messages in public is to select the https or other secure connection option in your email account settings (if your email provider supplies one). This option may be called always use httpsmore secure connection, or something similar. Even if the email provider you use has a secure network, after you log on to your account on a public network, your information is no longer encrypted unless you use a more secure connection. An https connection, for example, which includes encryption, is more secure than an http connection

3. Make sure your firewall is activated

firewall helps protect your PC by preventing unauthorized users from gaining access to your computer through the Internet or a network. It acts as a barrier that checks all incoming information and then either blocks the information or allows it to come through. All Windows operating systems come with a firewall, and you can make sure it's turned on.
Note: Some antivirus software includes its own firewall. If your antivirus has a firewall and it is turned on, you do not need to turn on Windows Firewall. Having two firewalls turned on is not recommended.

Turn Windows Firewall on:


Windows XP


4. Monitor your access points

Chances are that there are multiple wireless networks anywhere you're trying to connect. These connections are all access points, because they link into the wired system that gives you Internet access. So how do you make sure you're connecting to the right one? Simple—by configuring your PC to let you approve access pointsbefore you connect.

Configure access points


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Windows Vista

Windows XP


5. Disable file and printer sharing

File and printer sharing is a feature that enables other computers on a network to access resources on your computer. When you are using your mobile PC in a hot spot, it's best to disable file and printer sharing—when it's enabled, it leaves your computer vulnerable to hackers. Remember, though, to turn this feature back on when you return to the office.

Disable file and printer sharing


Windows 7


Windows Vista

Windows XP


6. Make your folders private

When the folders on your mobile PC are private, it's more difficult for hackers to access your files.

Make a folder private


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Windows Vista

Windows XP


Repeat the steps above for each folder that you want to make private.

7. Encrypt your files

You can protect your files further by encrypting them, which requires a password to open or modify them. Because you must perform this procedure on one file at a time, consider password-protecting only the files that you plan to use while working in a public place.

Encrypt folders or files

8. Consider removing sensitive data from your portable computer

If you're working with extremely sensitive data, it might be worth taking it off your portable computer altogether. Instead, save it on a corporate network share or on a password-protected site, such as Windows Live SkyDrive, and access it only when necessary. This way, you have multiple safeguards in place.
A few simple precautions can help make working in public places more secure. By selecting the best wireless Internet connections and adjusting settings, you can enjoy more productive and safer work sessions—no matter where you are.