General Question

Fernspider's avatar

Is it dangerous to connect to an unsecure wireless network?

Asked by Fernspider (3582 points ) June 28th, 2010

I have brought my laptop out and about today and have picked up some unsecured connections. One is called “Guest”.

When I click on it, a warning comes up saying “Information sent over this network might be visible to others.”

Is this dangerous and does it mean that:

a) People on that network can view my internet browsing habits/sites?
b) People on that network can steal or view my files?

Any information or advise would be helpful. My computer is running Windows 7 and has Norton Security installed and operating.

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18 Answers

Zaku's avatar

Short answer: probably nothing will happen. It’s conceivable something might, though.

Longer answer:

a) Generally not. Very unlikely. Only if they know what they are doing, have their software set up to do so, and bother to use it on your session.

b) Depends on your settings in Windows. Someone here can probably tell you what Windows 7 defaults are, but I doubt that even Microsoft is lame enough to still have defaults set so that establishing a wifi connection would open your files to them by default. However if you have gone and set up your laptop for unsecured network file sharing, your shares might be available. And if the person with the wifi network is a hacker hoping you will connect to their network, there may be hacks available for Windows which could allow them to do something like that. but if you have Norton running and update it and windows with the latest updates, even that may be unlikely to succeed.

filmfann's avatar

Anything you do on the computer can be seen and accessed by someone else, if they have mid-level computer skills.
I watched a friend of mine do this exact thing, by driving in front of a house which had a non-secure router. My friend saw their bank account, which was being accessed by the person inside. I was shocked.
My friend is a good person, and he wouldn’t take advantage of someone like that, but I could see how easily it could be done.

Fernspider's avatar

It is a pretty scary concept really. Due to my inexperience of such things, I wasn’t sure how prevalent this type of hacking behaviour was.

I have no gauge on whether this is something that happens to most people when they connect to unsecure wireless networks and that it is something the majority of people don’t risk OR if it is something that is possible but reasonably unlikely and rare.

I wouldn’t do my banking or make internet purchases but I feared others hacking into my Facebook account if I log into it or stealing my personal files and photos.

I have turned off file sharing in my network options but considered that it may be possible and entirely plausible that a hacker could override or back gate these settings.
Have any of you ever connected to an unsecure network or is it simply too risky in your opinion?

@filmfann :/ very scary stuff

h3llolim3's avatar

I assume that it can be harmful in some ways, I usually use an unsecured network as well, but I have a Mac. If your scared you getting a virus, I would probably ask a professional at some electronic store, otherwise I wouldn’t stress too much about it. As for B, it depends on your network settings, you can set it so that your files are private.

jessicasommers's avatar

I totally agree with filmfan! But if you don’t have anything fragile information in your computer then you should be ok, or yes set your windows option so that you will know if someone is trying to gain access.

So to answer your question “Is it dangerous to connect to an unsecure wireless network?” YES absolutely if you have something very important in your possessio, passwords, accounts, etc. will easily be taken advantage of by hackers.

Regards

Zaku's avatar

Um. Notice that the “unsecured” status of the network refers to whether the network requires some kind of code to connect to it or not. It does NOT refer directly to the safety of using the network, except by implication that if it is secure and you have the code to use it, then one might presume that you know and/or trust the people who gave you the code. Which might or might not be the case.

jerv's avatar

@Zaku ~I guess encryption isn’t any safer than unencrypted then.

Seriously, “secure” is more than just a password to let you log on; it’s an encryption key as well. Now, you can send your banking info unencrypted if you want, but I prefer my sensitive info in the ether to be encrypted in such a way that it requires either knowing a key or doing a lot more work breaking the encryption than it’s worth considering how many people run unsecure/unencrypted. And the login passphrase on a secure network is the encryption key, therefore no passphrase means no key, therefore no encryption.

anartist's avatar

what isn’t dangerous with the wild wild web?

jerv's avatar

@anartist Touché!

I forgot to mention the real issues with unencrypted connections. See, every bit of info you send (user names, passwords, account numbers, etcetera) or receive (including the entire contents of a web page; bad if you do online banking on an unsecure network) is plainly visible to any packet-sniffing fool. You are doing the right thing doing what you are doing.

However, Zaku is entirely correct in that the odds of someone with the inclination, skills, and equipment to do so being in your vicinity are pretty slim and I would imagine that the odds of them going after your FB account ares slimmer than that.

Personally, I connect to unsecure networks fairly regularly but I avoid basically anything that normally involves an HTTPS connection as opposed to plain-old HTTP (I don’t trust HTTPS much). And, of course, I configured my sharing properly.

anartist's avatar

@jerv I’m lazy and often go with the odds—but try not to do such stuff as online trading or filing legal briefs when I could be cruisin’ for a bruisin’

It is the same thing with the paranoid fantasy of the NSA or CIA following you—they have too much data, too little time and manpower, and are too busy elsewhere; besides, you are too unimportant.

zandrace's avatar

Sure is dangerous.

With dns and arp poisoning, if someone set up a fake wireless network I can redirect all your requests to bankofamerica.com or paypal.com for example, to a site I setup that looks just like it.

Once I have your login info, I can login and transfer money.

Think before you connect!

nadjo's avatar

please can anyone here help me ?
i am so scary ,
last week my internet connection got down , the i got connected for 1 week to unsecured internet connection , i signed in to hotmail messenger alot and talked to my friends , and started a video calls with them ,
my question is ,
is anyone on this unsecured network could viewed my video calls ? did they saw my video ? please try to reply me ASAP please =(

jerv's avatar

@nadjo It’s possible. Unlikely, but very possible.

Bear in mind that most people who sniff network traffic are looking for passwords and account numbers; if they see just a video chat, they will likely lose interest and move on (unless you are naked).

I would recommend changing your password and running a reputable antivirus program just in case though.

nadjo's avatar

@jerv : Okay , But Could They Have The Ability To Save This Video Call ?

jerv's avatar

If they can see it, they can save it. Fortunately, it’s rare to find someone who has the skill and the inclination to do so, but yes, if there was someone intercepting your unencrypted network traffic, it is possible that they have a copy of your video call.

I can’t help but be reminded of a quote from one of my old Cyberpunk RPG books. “Privacy? Basically you have none, except for the fact that odds are that nobody cares enough about you to spy on you.” That book was written almost a decade before the Internet was mainstream, but that little snippet is a basic tenet of the Information Age we live in nowadays.

qrst's avatar

but the router must be setup to such thing i mean to check my emails accounts etc ?????

qrst's avatar

but the router must be setup to do such thing i mean if anyone wants to check my emails accounts etc ?????

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