How Do I Use an Open Wi-Fi Hotspot Safely?


I’ve returned to the same coffee shop where I was a few months ago, where I noticed my email had been hijacked/hacked. This time, I’m using my phone, but the last time, when I noticed the hack, I was using my computer and doing email over an open-internet, free Wi-Fi network.

Do you think that could be the source of the problem or just a coincidence? I’m still afraid to do email from here.

It definitely could have been. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say for sure; it could have been something else unrelated.

As we can’t really diagnose the past, let’s look ahead instead.

It can be absolutely safe to send and receive email from a coffee shop or any other location that provides unsecured or “open” Wi-Fi. In fact, I do it all the time.

But to ensure your safety, you do have to follow some very important practices.

Read moreHow Do I Use an Open Wi-Fi Hotspot Safely?

Is it Safe to Share My Internet Connection with My Neighbor?

I have a next door neighbor who has a different internet provider than mine. When her service goes down, she asks me for the password to my router so she can connect to the internet. I have no problem providing her with the password, but I wonder if anyone in her house can access my computer now through the router. I trust her but I am concerned that others might try to hack into my system. Should I be worried?

Worried? That might seem a bit strong, but some concern is certainly reasonable.

The short answer to your question is yes, unless you protect yourself, it’s possible that someone on her computer with less than honorable intent could cause you grief in several ways.

Let’s look at how.

Read moreIs it Safe to Share My Internet Connection with My Neighbor?

Is Mobile Broadband More Secure than Wi-Fi?

I recently upgraded my mobile phone and can now connect it to my laptop to get internet access almost anywhere. The salesperson said it will be more secure to use, even in places that offer Wi-Fi. Is it more secure?

Yes, but.

By and large, data connectivity through the cellular network is more secure than open Wi-Fi.

That’s not a reflection of some inherent security difference in the technology, but more a reflection of just how ubiquitous and insecure open Wi-Fi really is.

Read moreIs Mobile Broadband More Secure than Wi-Fi?

Is it OK to Use this Random Wireless Network I Just Found?

My internet connection went down on a Friday, and the service rep gave me a service call time for Monday, maybe. My HP notebook has wireless capability so I turned it on and checked what wireless networks were available. There are 3 secured and 1 unsecured wireless networks. I am able to logon to the unsecured wireless network, a NETGEAR network. The signal is low and only about 500K but works. Am I breaking the law by using someone else’s wireless network? Is there a way to find out where this wireless network is and who owns it, hopefully it is a free public wireless network? Am I in any danger from using this wireless network? I am not doing anything that requires a password, and I have Windows Firewall, Norton antivirus, and Windows Defender running on my computer.

What you’re doing is very common. With so many open wireless hotspots around, it’s a temptation that’s frequently too hard to resist, particularly when you’re in need.

Yet resist it you should.

There are a number of problems that arise from connecting to an unknown but open hotspot.

Read moreIs it OK to Use this Random Wireless Network I Just Found?

What the “KRACK attacks” mean to you

Earlier this week, a vulnerability was disclosed in the WPA2 security protocol that, in the worst case, could allow an attacker to potentially gain access to some or all of the encrypted information transmitted over a Wi-Fi connection.

This isn’t a bug, and it’s not a failure of one manufacturer or another. This is a weakness in the protocol itself.

If you use Wi-Fi on any device, it’s worth understanding how big of a risk this might be, and what steps, if any, you might want to take.

Read moreWhat the “KRACK attacks” mean to you

How Do I Recover a Wi-Fi Password When I’m Not Connected?

In a previous article you showed how to get the Wi-Fi password being used to connect to a wireless network. The only catch is that you had to be connected to the network to get the password.

It’s a long story, but … is there a way to get the Wi-Fi password for a network I was connected to at one time, but am not connected to right now?

Actually, yes there is.

Unless you explicitly tell it to forget, Windows will carefully remember all the passwords for all the wireless networks you’ve connected to in the past.1

The only “trick” is that we’ll be using Command Prompt to get Windows to show us that password.

Read moreHow Do I Recover a Wi-Fi Password When I’m Not Connected?

Recover a Remembered Wi-Fi Password

I connected to my WPA-protected Wi-Fi network ages ago, and now I can’t remember the password. How do I figure out what it is?

It’s not at all uncommon to set up a wireless network securely, and then get on with your life, neglecting to write down the encryption password you created. Later, when it comes time to add another device, you’re unable to remember that all-important password.

It’s so secure, even you can’t get in!

There are two approaches you can take.

Read moreRecover a Remembered Wi-Fi Password

How Do I Block Neighboring Wireless Networks?

A neighbor has kindly named his unprotected wireless network after my own. I’m not sure why but it must be intentional since my network name is rather contorted. I immediately changed my network’s SSID and increased the security level to WPA. However, as the neighbor’s network has a strong signal and is unprotected, my laptop insisted on logging on to it until I realized what was going on and deleted it from the preferred nets list. However, I would feel safer if I could simply block the said network altogether. Is that possible?

By the way, could this be what I think it is? The neighbor setting up an unprotected network with the same name as mine in the hope that my computer would connect to his net if mine happened to be down?

This is a very interesting scenario. On the surface, it certainly feels like your neighbor is up to something. Exactly what is difficult to say, but I think you’re wise to be very cautious.

While I wouldn’t call it “blocking” the neighbor’s wireless network, here are the steps I would take.

Read moreHow Do I Block Neighboring Wireless Networks?

Extending Your Network With A Wireless Access Point

Here’s the scenario: you have an existing connection to the internet that is connected to a router of some sort, which in turn connects to your other computers via ethernet or built-in wireless access point.

You want to extend your wireless range by adding another wireless access point (WAP).

Sounds easy, and it can be. However, there are a couple of “gotcha’s” along the way.

Read moreExtending Your Network With A Wireless Access Point

Does Having a Publicly Visible Wi-Fi Password Add Security Compared to an Open Wi-Fi Hotspot?

I handle the Wi-Fi hotspot for a library and have been using WPA2 with an openly distributed passphrase. Another library has no security whatsoever. Is there a greater risk using no security because for our library the passphrase is so openly available to possibly bad guys?

The short answer is absolutely!

Using WPA2 with a password – even a publicly visible one – adds significant levels of security beyond an open Wi-Fi hotspot. Yes, even if everybody in the room knows the password.

When you’ve got an open Wi-Fi hotspot, all of the information that’s being transmitted by each of the computers connected to that hotspot is being transmitted in the clear. That puts the onus of security on each individual computer user. That’s not necessarily a good assumption to make.

Read moreDoes Having a Publicly Visible Wi-Fi Password Add Security Compared to an Open Wi-Fi Hotspot?

I’m Using Someone Else’s Internet Connection – Am I at Risk?


If I use a wired internet connection provided by my colleague is there any way for him or anyone connected to that same modem to watch the files in my laptop or if they can see my laptop while I’m using the internet like Skype or Gmail?

The short answer is: absolutely yes.

You are very right to be concerned. This is a topic I touch on from time to time, and it’s worth discussing a little bit more, since the risks are very easy to overlook.

Read moreI’m Using Someone Else’s Internet Connection – Am I at Risk?

Why am I getting limited connectivity at my local open wifi hotspot?


Leo, sometimes when I attempt to connect to my local coffeehouse’s Wi-Fi, I can connect to a strong signal that has limited or no connectivity but others in the house are connected with no problem at the same time. The shop owner’s not willing to reset the router because it might take down his credit card machine or other patrons – all perfectly logical. Anyway, is there a setting in my laptop that might improve this situation? Rebooting does not help. Disabling wireless and restart does not help. I’m using Windows XP Pro, Service Pack 3 with all updates.

Wireless N internal, and external N via USB. Both have failed (I’m not trying to connect them at the same time.) As did wireless G on another of my laptops also fail even though several other patrons are connected okay under the same wireless. I seem to be the only one having this problem but the problem is intermittent. Sometimes I can connect okay. Why would some be able to connect while others not, all at the same time?

Unfortunately, there’s not a setting on your computer that’s in your control, that I’m aware of, that would fix this problem. I do have some ideas, but the bottom line is that you really have to try and try again until it works, since you are able to reach full connectivity some of the time.

I just don’t really have any magical answers that are just going to make this problem go away for you.

Read moreWhy am I getting limited connectivity at my local open wifi hotspot?

Why can’t I connect to my hotel’s wireless network?

Leo, I can’t connect to my hotel’s wireless with my Win 7 laptop. It’s happened twice at different places. I can with the iPad. After it connects, a browser page pops up, asking me to agree to the terms. After I check the box, the browser closes and I’m on wireless. But for some reason, using Win 7, that browser doesn’t come up, but a bubble note says to click for browser; nothing happens. I tried disabling Norton’s firewall with the same results.

Many providers of free, open hotspots force you to agree to terms of service before they allow you to access their internet.  It’s a legal issue: they need to cover themselves in case people misuse or abuse their service and somehow hold them liable for it.

Sometimes that can get in the way.

Read moreWhy can’t I connect to my hotel’s wireless network?

How do I get wireless internet?

We have dial-up at our house and I’m sick of it. I can get on the internet from my iPod at the edge of my property, but I want internet on my desktop IN my house. What do I need to connect up?

I want to use this question to clear up a misconception that appears to be surprisingly common.

Wireless internet is not just “out there” to connect to. You need to take steps, whether it’s setting something up, paying for something, or at a minimum, asking for permission.

It’s definitely not the case that you can just grab a wireless card and suddenly be connected anywhere you want. The wireless capabilities of your computer are only half of what’s needed.

There are several approaches to getting a wireless internet connection.

Read moreHow do I get wireless internet?

What is “Limited Connectivity” and how do I fix it?


I have recently started receiving “limited connectivity” messages at our vacation condo. Looking on the web I’ve found a jillion ways to fix this problem and can’t believe all the advertising. I’ve found that cycling the repeater that is in our condo will usually clear this problem. What causes it and what do I do when cycling the repeater doesn’t work?

“Limited connectivity” happens when your computer can connect to the network … but it can’t.

I know, that wasn’t very helpful. But it’s actually accurate. Your computer was able to connect the network in one way, but was unable to complete the next step.

Read moreWhat is “Limited Connectivity” and how do I fix it?

How Do I Connect My Desktop to the Nearby Wireless Internet WiFi Hotspot?

I have a desktop computer that is not hooked up to the internet, nor has been. There is a WiFi hot spot down the street; since it is free I would like to be able to connect to it. What do I need to buy and do to get up and connected to it?

You need two things to connect to that local hotspot. One you can probably buy at any computer store, but the other might be harder to come by.

Let me explain…

Read moreHow Do I Connect My Desktop to the Nearby Wireless Internet WiFi Hotspot?