Common sense browsing when connecting to a public wireless connection

We’re in a hotel at the moment, which includes free wireless connectivity. What are the naïve things I should avoid? There’s no reason to check our bank accounts or anything, but we do want to check our various webmail accounts.

We’re on a Windows 7 machine; I told the network connection utility it’s a public network.

Generally, https is safe from eavesdroppers. You can force an https session with most webmail providers by specifying it in the URL like so:

Change to

You may want to change your DNS to a known good DNS like google’s This will make it harder to spoof fake DNS.

Yes, if the session is secure - https:// and the ittle lock should be present in the lower right - then traffic from your computer to the bank is encrypted. If someone can capture and decode that, they probably work for a fancy government agency and stay at much more upscale hotels.

The other danger in hotel or coffeshop browsing is sharing. Windows Vista and 7 have definitions of networks: private, public etc. Confusing logical (to geeks) but backward. A public network is a coffeeshop or hotel, where everyone else on the same network can see your traffic, especially if wireless. A wired network nowadays is likely to be switched, and thus private against snooping unless the person is really smart and has monkeyed with the switch settings. SO in a private network - at home - you may share publicly all your files so the desktop can also see and use the laptop files, for example. (Often in this case, no password either). In a public network your data should be private - no open shares for others to browse.

XP does not give you this distinction. If you share your files at home, then go on the road, odds are your shared folders are still wide open if you did not password-protect them.

Plus, the Hotel firewall/router may also keep logs that tell the curious staff the name of the sites you went to. If you go to less secure sites (not https) some are silly enough to embed the login info in the site name in the address bar. At very least, if they give you and your companion curious stares at checkout, you’ll know they saw on their logs that you browsed :slight_smile:

And on home, that means password protecting your guest account. Use “net user guest *” on the command lineand then you’ll get a prompt allowing you set the password.