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Bradley Mitchell

Using an Unsecured Wireless Network

By January 4, 2006

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| Commentary | A reader recently asked about the risks of using open public WiFi hotspots. These links show as "unsecured wireless connections" on your Windows laptop. Is it safe to use your credit card over such connections? Are there any precautions to take to make your connection more secure?
When using an https:// connection through your Web browser, your personal information is protected, even on otherwise insecure connections. This is generally considered strong enough network security to have when sending your credit card number, for example. At a public hotspot, the greater risk is usually someone situated behind you able to see the numbers you type.

Another security risk on public hotpots involves other computers also connected to this unsecured network. Network attacks can be made through them, by connecting to your computer and possibly downloading information from your hard drive.

People address this latter problem by running a firewall program on their computer. Firewalls guard against these incoming attackers. It is additional considered good practice not to stay connected to unsecured networks for too long of a time to become an attack target. You should always run a good firewall program whenever connected to a "unsecured wireless network" and disconnect when not using your link.

June 4, 2008 at 12:24 am
(1) chetan says:

if i m travelling and using unsecured wireless n/w e.g airport wireless..is there any possibility to hack my laptops data…my confidential information and if yes how do I avoid it..by applying some settings on my laptop..

August 13, 2008 at 11:35 pm
(2) Steven says:

Chetan, follow the above directions in the article. Install a firewall program, often these are included with antivirus software like McAfee (preferred) or Norton.

November 6, 2008 at 9:43 am
(3) Srinivas says:

wherever i go my laptop finds a wireless network fortunately. I use it. One day i tried to find the system and whether i can access any data. But i could not able to. Maximum, i have found IP of the router. For the owner it is bandwidth problem. Nothing else right? I strongly believe that we cannot access data in their system. Let me know if i am wrong

December 15, 2008 at 10:43 am
(4) Swanand says:

Can accessing IM’s over such unsecured networks compromise on the privacy of the contents of the Chat/ video?

December 16, 2008 at 8:45 pm
(5) MLF says:

Is there a way of finding out if someone is sneaking in on our home network.
Would they leave a trail or telltale signs of being there?
We use Verizon.

January 25, 2009 at 4:27 pm
(6) Nemo says:

Yes you can, but that’s getting pretty technical. If you do a lot of reading and try and fail you can use a program called snort. it’s completely free but not necessarily for the faint of heart, but when used correctly can tell you exactly what’s coming in and out of your computer, and when you use filters it can tell you exactly what should and shouldn’t be going in and out.

March 18, 2009 at 11:19 pm
(7) Kyle says:


You can catch them in the act by going to your router settings(check on the box for default url)then navigate your way to DHCP Client List and this will show the name and IP of any computers that are using the wireless connection.

Good luck

March 24, 2009 at 12:16 am
(8) Ben says:

Mentioned earlier is a program (“snort”) which shows what is currently going in and out of your computer.
Well, is there a way to tell a HISTORY of such activity – that is, what stuff has been retrieved in the past via another computer stealing from yours?

December 16, 2009 at 9:06 am
(9) abe says:

hi. im like connected to a unsecured network right now. will something bad happen? i livve in the philippines… in a village. will someone be able to acces my personal info?

January 21, 2010 at 8:51 pm
(10) ddog says:

yes, wild dogs from the woods surrounding your village will sneak into your hut at night and chew your computer to shreds.

February 21, 2010 at 10:17 am
(11) Bol says:

Hi, Email sent from WiFi like from a mall or cafe what ip will they generate? Can I pinpoint the location or just the city?

September 11, 2010 at 12:58 am
(12) Nabin says:

Does using unsecured network causes hack incoming email messages to the inbox…

February 6, 2012 at 4:43 am
(13) mikay says:

i am always connecting to a free wifi or net whenever there is an available wifi connections in my laptop… Is there a possibility that someone can see my cam when I’m using a yahoo messenger? Or is there a possibility that the router can detect the website I am visiting?

October 16, 2012 at 8:29 am
(14) Shelly says:

Would you mind if I quote a small number of your posts as long as
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February 7, 2013 at 9:50 am
(16) Chris says:

I’m at Columbia University in NYC. Yesterday I ordered some books on Amazon, where I had to re-type my card details. I was using a “virtual” debit card that is used exclusively for online purchase, as opposed to a real debit or credit card. The virtual debit card is a bit of plastic with card details, but you cannot use it at an Atm or card reader.
The connection I have been using is public and unsecured, however. What are the risks of someone having retrieved my card data via this network?
Also, I ‘d like to check by online banking. Would you recommend doing that on an unsecured network?

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May 21, 2014 at 1:41 pm
(31) Peter says:

Here is the deal.

Most websites use https when sending sensitive information. When https precedes the URL you are using, this means that something called Secure Socket Layer(SSL) is being used. This is a protocol the internet uses to encrypt information sent to other servers/computers. When this is in use, sensitive outgoing information from that page is ENCRYPTED. This is a standard, but you should always double check the URL to ensure SSL is being used.

If you are on a insecure network, but the website you are using has the letters “https” that precede the URL, it is generally considered safe to use.

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