By having administrative access to the router providing your internet access — be it an open WiFi hotspot, a hotel, your place of employment, or even your internet service provider, or ISP — the provider can monitor your usage. Accidentally or on purpose, they may also allow others on the network to sniff your traffic.
It doesn’t matter whether the connection is wired or wireless.
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Who do you trust?
In general, we trust our ISP, and perhaps even our employer, but it’s a bad idea to trust hotels and open Wi-Fi hotspots. Both are easily abused, either by network administrators or by those willing to sit quietly in a corner and capture internet traffic passing by.
In either case, they may be able to catch accounts, passwords, and more from users who haven’t sufficiently protected themselves.
As generous as your landlord’s offer is, it falls into exactly the same boat.
- When your landlord provides your internet, that makes him your ISP. If he’s technically knowledgeable, he can watch the traffic on the network he’s providing.
- Depending on the network configuration, your neighbors (or anyone in range of the wireless network) might also be able to watch traffic sent wirelessly.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is: it’s exactly the same risk you run when using an open Wi-Fi hotspot at your local coffee shop or elsewhere.
The good news, then, is that exactly the same solutions apply.
- Secure connections. Any connection beginning with https instead of http is an encrypted connection. Your landlord or others might see which sites you are visiting (e.g. gmail.com), but the data (e.g. your email) is encrypted. Using an https connection to a service like Gmail is one way to secure your email from snooping.1 The same is true when using desktop email programs, except it’s called SSL or TLS when configuring your email account connections.
- VPNs. A VPN, or “Virtual Private Network”, is a fully encrypted connection to a VPN server, which then connects you to the internet. These are typically meant for people who travel and use WiFi hotspots a lot, but they’re useful in many other situations as well.
- Anonymous web surfing. If you use a service like TOR, snoopers might be able to tell you’re using the service, but they cannot tell where you’re surfing; it’s all encrypted.
Given that you’ll be connecting this way almost exclusively in your new residence, I’d recommend a VPN as the easiest solution. It’ll protect everything you do from your landlord and neighbors. I have been happy with TunnelBear myself, but there are many other popular services.
On the other hand, the ultimate solution is getting your own internet connection independent of your landlord. It’s worth at least a quick look and cost comparison. Be sure to include the option of using your mobile provider as well. Depending on your data plan and how you use the internet, this can be a very reasonable alternative.
1: In theory, a hotspot owner or ISP could perform a man-in-the-middle attack and possibly intercept the encrypted traffic. This is extremely difficult, and rare, and typically has warning signs, including error messages of various sorts.