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Laptop and Wireless Security


Recommendations for laptop security in public wireless situations

  1. Turn off automatic connections
  2. Disable Wi-Fi ad-hoc mode
  3. Encrypt your data
  4. Use a personal firewall
  5. Turn off “simple file sharing" IF you are sharing files
  6. Turn off file sharing for each of your normally shared folders
  7. If you want to work offline, disable or remove your wireless adapter
  8. Be aware of your physical environment
  9. Additional general precautions
Additional Resources regarding Laptop Security


Wireless service is a tremendous convenience and enables us to do more at more places and times than ever before in history. But, as a matter of habit and discretion, one should never assume that a wireless network and usage situation is entirely secure, due to others using the same network with various devices and intentions. You need to take extra security precautions when using a wireless network, especially if it’s a public “hot spot” located in a motel or cyber café.

So, we recommend certain steps to help promote physical and virtual wireless laptop usage. Instructions for doing the steps below will vary based on machine, configuration, and operating system, so refer to your personal equipment’s and software’s documentation for details, but we have included some instructions and links to additional information regarding some of the following recommendations:

(Note: Some of the links on this page lead to sites not owned or maintained by Pitt Community College.)

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1. Turn off automatic connections

Another way to protect your system is to keep it from automatically connecting to any wireless network it detects. If you let it automatically connect, it could accidentally connect to a malicious or spoofed access point. Wireless network adapters constantly scan the airwaves for available connections and often connect to them automatically, without checking them out first.

To disable automatic connections in Windows XP:

  1. Choose Start | Connect To | Wireless Network Connection to open the Wireless Network Connection dialog box.
  2. Click on the Change Advanced Settings link to open the Wireless Network Connection Properties dialog box.
  3. Select the Wireless Networks tab, and then click Advanced.
  4. Select the Connection tab, and then deselect the Connect When This Network Is in Range check box.
  5. Click OK to close the dialog box.

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2. Disable Wi-Fi ad-hoc mode.

Wi-Fi runs in two modes: infrastructure mode (when you connect to a network) and ad hoc mode (when you connect directly to another PC). If you’ve enabled ad hoc mode, someone near you could establish a connection to your computer without your knowledge, and they’ll have free reign on your machine . . . Ensure the network is legitimate.

It is becoming more and more prevalent that you will encounter networks that individuals have established at or near public spots in an attempt to have you connect so that they can possibly tap into your machine. Make sure you are connected to what you want by clarifying with facility personnel the name of their network.

To turn off ad hoc mode in Windows XP:

  1. Right-click the wireless icon in the System Tray. Choose Status.
  2. Click Properties.
  3. Select the “Wireless Networks” tab.
  4. Select your current network connection.
  5. Click Properties, and then click the “Association” tab.
  6. Uncheck the box next to “This is a computer-to-computer (ad-hoc) network.
  7. Click OK until the dialog boxes disappear to complete the process.

Note: If a wireless icon isn't displayed in your System Tray, you can get to your wireless connection by clicking on Start, going to Settings, then Control Panel and then Network Connections. Then double-click on the wireless connection icon to bring up the panel that displays the "Change advanced settings" link. An alternate path on some systems might be Start --> Control Panel --> Network and Internet Connections --> Network Connections, then double-click on the wireless network connection icon.

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3. Encrypt your data.

You can use the fully licensed version of WinZip® or other means to encrypt any sensitive data on a computer that will be connected to a wireless network. This protects you by disallowing others to read your data if they get your laptop or get into it.

Windows XP option
Macintosh instructions (requires OS 10.3 or higher)

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4. Use a personal firewall.

You can use Windows built-in firewall or a 3rd party solution.

Windows XP Firewall configuration instructions:

If you have Windows XP SP2 installed, it is enabled by default. But - we do recommend the “Don’t Allow Exceptions” option when using a public facility . . . here’s how

.more Windows XP Firewall configuration info regarding exceptions.

Mac OS 10 Firewall Instructions

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5. Turn off “simple file sharing” IF you are actually sharing files.

- - - Windows XP instructions

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6. Turn off file sharing for each of your normally shared folders.

Remember – if you are not at home or work, chances are that you do not want to share with others what is on your machine.

To turn off file sharing in Windows XP:

  1. Start Windows Explorer.
  2. Right-click on the drive or folders you normally share.
  3. Choose “Sharing and Security,” and uncheck the box next to “Share this folder on the network.”

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7. If you want to work offline, disable or remove your wireless adapter.

Remove your external wireless card or disable the wireless network adaptor built into your computer.
- - - To disable a wireless card in Windows XP:

  1. Right-click the wireless icon in the Task Bar
  2. Choose “Disable” on the menu. If you’re using the adapter’s software to manage your connection, check the laptop’s documentation on how to disable it.

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8. Be aware of your physical environment

Often, in the virtual world, it is easy to overlook the physical things one can do to protect themselves when using wireless facilities.

  1. Look over your shoulder . . . simply guard your screen from others attempting to look on uninvited.
  2. Do not leave your laptop or other devices unattended. If you must, lock it down before doing so and use a password-protected screen saver.
    - - - In Windows: Press CTL, ALT, DEL simultaneously and choose “Lock Computer” from shutdown options. You can also create a lock-down shortcut on your desktop. See your computers documentation for other options.
  3. Protect from damage by not leaving it on the floor or where it could be easily bumped or knocked off of an elevated position. … additional precautions

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9. Additional general precautions

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Additional Resources