I have been on the road a lot this summer, which is always the worst time of year to travel. But one thing I have noticed is that increasingly, many laptop-toting travelers are inadvertently sharing their files when they are on the hotel or airport or coffee shop WiFi.
So here is a short security tip: when you get ready to leave for your next trip, take the two minutes and turn off your file sharing.
Granted, most people aren’t so nosy, or even know how to probe your computer, but why take the chance?
What is amazing is how poorly some hotel and airport networks are constructed, making one big flat space that everyone can see everyone else connected. In some places, there are dozens of computers visible that have sharing turned on.
For those that don’t remember, on the Mac it is System Preferences/ File Sharing. On Windows 7 you can set up different kinds of networks and make it permanent, go to Control Panel/Network and Internet/Network Sharing Center/Advanced sharing settings and then turn off the various options for network discovery, file and print sharing, and public folder sharing for public networks. This way, you can keep sharing on your corporate network and not have to fool with this setting when you travel. On earlier versions of Windows, you will have to turn it off when you travel just like the Mac. You can also go into the wireless network connection property sheet and uncheck the file and printer sharing and Microsoft networking client boxes too.
I know I have been guilty of this myself, and usually am reminded of this when I see the long list of open file servers in my Mac’s Finder window.
There are lots of other steps you can take to make your wireless computing safer, including using a strong firewall (the Win7 built-in one is better than earlier built-in versions) and don’t automatically connect to any available hotspot. And use encryption on your own hotspots at home and in the office, to keep others out.
For more commentary about wireless security issues, check out this piece by Lisa Phifer here from 2008. While old, it is still relevant.