Using hotspots safely

Whether in the café, at the university or at the airport – hotspots are always welcome to notebook and smartphone owners. Public WLAN is convenient, but also risky. If you connect your laptop to the café’s network and disregard essential cautionary measures, for example, you could just as well connect it to a beamer. Although the wireless local area networks often require a password and a user name, they are publicly accessible for many unknown users. Commonly, the administrators cannot be relied upon, since only very few have extensive technical know-how. For this reason, there is always a certain risk of someone gaining unauthorized access to your system. Here’s how to be safe on the public network.

Perils in public networks

„Free Wifi“ is very popular on holiday trips. There are two types of open WLAN networks: logging in without a password or entering a password you receive from the provider. In hotels, for example, guests receive a note with the current password at check-in. However, since no authentication is required to establish a connection, it’s easy for hackers to penetrate personal data. They interpose between the device and the access point so that network users do not communicate directly with the hotspot but with the hacker. Thus, the hacker gains access to all the information the user transmits – be it e-mails or bank and access data.

How to use public WLAN securely

The proper security measures provided, you can protect yourself from a hacker attack in hotspots:

Deactivate sharing

Before using a public WLAN, you should deactivate any folder sharing that you may have set up to access your laptop via your PC. If they remain activated, there is a risk that someone else will access your data on the laptop. On a Windows 10 system, open the “Control Panel”, and click on the “Network and Sharing Center” icon. Click on the “Change advanced sharing settings” link on the left side. Expand open the “All Networks” section. Under “Public folder sharing”, select “Turn off Public folder sharing” and click on “Save changes”. On macOS devices, open the system settings and uncheck „File sharing“ under „Sharing“.

Switch off the remote services

Windows devices have tools such as the “Remote Desktop” to access and remotely control your laptop via your PC. Since it is activated by default, you must uncheck “Allow remote support connections to this computer” and “Do not allow remote connection to this computer”. On macOS devices, deactivate the “Sharing” and the “Allow remote management” checkbox under “Screen sharing” in the system settings.

Enable the system firewall and update regularly

Always leave the firewall activated to block outside connections that are not absolutely necessary for operation. If there is a security gap in the operating system, hackers can exploit it in public hotspots. Therefore, you should always check if your mobile phone’s and laptop’s operating system are up to date and agree to automatic updates. In addition, the connections should always be encrypted, especially when shopping online.

Get a VPN service

The safest way to surf the web is via a virtual private network, better known as VPN. The service creates a kind of “tunnel” for your online activities and encrypts the connection between the computer and the endpoint. Since most hackers prefer easy prey, they won’t bother decrypting your data.

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