General Question

Joe_Freeman's avatar

How dangerous is it to use an unsecured WiFi network?

Asked by Joe_Freeman (477 points ) July 24th, 2010

My friend Steve just got his first computer, a Windows 7 netbook with WiFi support, and wants to use it exclusively on free public WiFi networks such as those at Starbucks and other coffeehouses, but never at home. He was doing great until a mutual friend told him that if he uses an unsecured (password-free) public network, anyone with a little knowledge can access everything on his netbook, and even plant files on it, such as child pornography which, if it’s found, can end him up in jail or worse. Now Steve is terrified and won’t use WiFi at any location that does not have a secured network. Is Steve’s worry justified?

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6 Answers

jaytkay's avatar

There are risks, but there is not an army of evil-doers with agents at every Starbucks awaiting innocent victims. And there are easy ways to minimize risk.

Lifehacker – How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks
http://lifehacker.com/5576927/how-to-stay-safe-on-public-wi+fi-networks

PCMag – Four Ways to Surf Safely at Starbucks
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2109464,00.asp

Bettnet – Beware of airport wi-fi “honeypots”
http://www.bettnet.com/blog/index.php/weblog/travel_tip_beware_of_airport_wi_fi_honeypots/

AdvanceSubsonic's avatar

Like Jaytkay said there are risks but most likley you aren’t going to get any.

CMaz's avatar

I leave my wireless router unsecure at home. I figure if someone can tap into it. More power to them.

jerv's avatar

Personally, when I am on a “public” network, there are certain things I do nt do on my computer, especially anything banking related.

As for people installing stuff onto your computer, Windows 7 makes that a little hard to do, as do any decent security programs. Win7 also allows you to set different rules for when you are on a private network versus a public one. I share files at home all the time on my secured router, but on a public network, that option is turned off in my Win7 Control Panel.

Basically, it’s only dangerous if you are stupid. Of course, accessing anything you regard as personal or private (like your bank or e-mail) over an unencrypted public network qualifies as “stupid” in this context. But that will only really allow someone to read your sent info; it won’t allow access to your hard drive.

Sure, it’s technically possible for some uber-hacker to figure out a way around the security to do something like that, but it’s also technically possible for Osama bin Laden to kick down my door in the middle of the night ans ass-rape me. Odds are that there isn’t an uber-hacker in the same vicinity, so identity theft and a drained bank account are about the worst of his worries, realistically speaking.

anartist's avatar

@ChazMaz I am surprised. And you a technical type! Don’t you do video as a job?

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