How to protect yourself at wireless hot spots

They can be an invitation to disaster, says Preston Gralla, who offers a surefire plan to avoid security breaches

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So make sure that you turn off file sharing before you connect to a hot spot. To turn it off in Windows XP, run Windows Explorer, right-click on the drives or folders you share, choose the Sharing and Security tab, and uncheck the box next to "Share this folder on the network."

Figure 1
Protect yourself by turning off file sharing (Click image to see larger view.)

If you're a Windows Vista user, it's even easier to turn off file sharing. When you connect to a hot spot, designate it as Public. When you do that, Windows Vista automatically turns off file sharing. You can also turn off file sharing manually. Choose Control Panel-->Set up file sharing, click "File sharing," select "Turn off file sharing," and click Apply. Then click "Password protected sharing," select "Turn off password protected file sharing," and click Apply.

Turn off network discovery

If you're a Vista user, a feature called Network Discovery makes your PC visible on a network so that other users can see it and try to connect to it. On a private network, this is useful; at a public hot spot, it's a security risk. When you connect to a hot spot and designate the network as Public, Network Discovery is turned off, so again, make sure to designate any hot spot as Public.

However, you can also make sure that Network Discovery is turned off for your hot spot connection. When you're connected, choose ControlPanel-->View network status and tasks. Then in the Sharing and Discover section, click the Network Discovery button, choose "Turn off network discovery," and click Apply.

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Vista users should turn off Network Discovery for maximum safety (Click image to see larger view.)
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