Many of us that work for ourselves often work from different locations, this is one of the great things about laptops and internet access on the go. However, roaming around town hooking up to random WiFi access points isn't all rainbows and unicorns. There is a dark side and you should be aware of it.
The biggest problem with public access points is that most people that set them up simply don't know what they're doing. Even professionally setup access points are often misconfigured. They don't care, but you should since some of your files could end up on the wrong hands. When you setup your WiFi network at home, you most likely want all your computers to be able to talk to each other and share files. Sharing pictures, music and videos are the most common files you share, usually through a program like iTunes or Windows Media player etc. However, when a public WiFi spot is setup, the administrator should take steps to make sure the hosts can't talk to each other; they shouldn't have to or need to. Leaving the ability for hosts to talk to each other on a public WiFi isn't a good idea and here's why.
Why should you care about this?
You're not an admin right?
First and foremost, make sure you have an active firewall when you're out and about, and keep your anti-virus updated. This post isn't so much about viruses getting to your system --although it could happen if you're not careful. The real purpose of this post is to scare you into paying attention. Yes, to instill fear in your very soul, surfing on public WiFi spots can be dangerous as the pictures below show you.
Take a look at these pictures. They're all taken in the past few months as I move around town from one WiFi spot to another. For the safety and privacy of the people involved I've blurred out names and other personal information. Each photo contains an explanation of what it is that I'm trying to show. These were the ones that were safer to post up online.
Notice that only one of the pictures I showed you (there were many more) show that I was able to in fact see the files in the shares, most of the other computers I found just had too much stuff going on to blur anything and still leave you something useful to look at. Most of the other systems that were wide open were windows based. I only had one Mac (shown above) that had open shares where I could actually get files.
- Some of the open shared systems had Dropbox installed, but those that had dropbox installed were usually locked down.
- Most of the windows systems that were open had "My Documents" wide open. Including Windows XP, and a couple Windows 7.
- It seems that most of the users with shares were students. Maybe the fact that wifi is free? Maybe the fact I frequent places near a large university?
Please note that I did not do anything special to find this information. I did not "hack" into anything, I didn't scan anything nor did I actively try to get this information. Your computer would do the same thing under normal circumstances. Just casually looking around I've found:
- Letters to Lovers
- Compromising pictures
- Personal information
Whenever you use a free access point, or paid for that matter be sure to turn off your computer's sharing services or configure them to be secure.
- You have Anti-virus installed and updated
- A firewall might help you as well
- To be safe, turn off any shares or sharing services
- Bonus is to rename your computer to something that doesn't relate to you