One of the things we’re always told to do when using public wifi in a hotel (or any other place) is to turn off file sharing.
Okay, that sounds like a smart thing to do, but do you know why? Can someone on the same wifi network we are on actually access our files?
Hubs and Nodes
About 20% of hotels still use an antiquated hub-based wifi network, in which all Internet communication from each user is sent to every other connection.
In theory, each connection or “node” is only supposed to listen to traffic and access files that are intended for them, and ignore the rest. But it’s incredibly easy for a hacker to switch their laptop’s network card to promiscuous mode, which allows them to view all the information traveling from each node on the network, as well as access files from each node that has enabled file sharing.
The majority of hotels use a network switch instead of a hub-based network, which doesn’t give hackers the opportunity to access your shared files.
So how can you tell if a hotel or other type of public network is hub-based? The problem is, you can’t.
Public Wifi and File Sharing
Here’s how it works: if you have file sharing turned on (and your firewall is configured to allow for file sharing) once you connect to a hub-based wifi network, your folders and files can be accessed by anyone else in the same network.
Does your workplace have a network drive where everyone stores their personal and shared files? It’s exactly like that.
Now does it make more sense? Good! So before you ever use another wifi hotspot in a hotel or any other place for that matter, turn off file sharing. It’s simply a smart thing to do to protect your privacy.
How to Turn Off File Sharing
If you have a PC, you can turn off file sharing by doing the following:
- Go to the Control Panel.
- Select Network and Internet > Network Sharing Center > Change advanced sharing settings.
- Turn off the options for network discovery, file and print sharing, and public folder sharing for public networks.
- Click Save changes.
For a Mac:
- Go to System Preferences > Sharing.
- Ensure that the File Sharing option is not enabled. If it is enabled (if File Sharing has a checkmark next to it), uncheck it.
Other things that can make you more secure when using a wifi hotspot: Use a strong firewall and use a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi™.