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Securing wireless connections in hotels

How can I secure a Windows laptop machine that uses wireless access while in hotels? I have seen numerous articles about securing a wireless network, but nothing about how to secure a single machine. The machine I use has Windows XP Home with SP2 installed on it (HP Pavilion zv5410us). At home, I use the machine connected via ethernet to my desktop, through a hub (no wireless connection).

The IT guru where I work says it is not possible to secure Windows XP Home, and that I need to install XP Pro on the machine. HP tech support claims the machine is totally secure, which I find difficult to believe.

I run CA eTrust Antivirus and Microsoft AntiSpyware, but I still notice a large amount of inbound traffic when I am at certain hotels and can not determine what the traffic is for. The Windows Task Manager does not show anything conclusive. I have determined that it is not the OS or software updating itself. The inbound traffic rate is substantial: about 50MB/hour if I let it run. I have no idea where it is all going. Windows Firewall does not have any exceptions enabled, and it does not warn me that anything unusual is happening.

As long as Windows Firewall is enabled on your wireless connection, I think you're fine for occasional hotel visits. Often a lot of inbound traffic is discarded for various reasons: some might be malicious while other traffic may be simply broadcast traffic via a hub. If you look at your cable modem or DSL modem, you'll see a lot of inbound traffic, which has become fairly common these days.

The IT guru at your office is incorrect in saying you can't secure XP Home. Windows Firewall works, other software-based firewalls work, and general security measures function as expected. XP Home can't offer domain-based security and central management, but it certainly is adequate for your needs.

This was last published in June 2005

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