When setting up a Wi-Fi connection, you get to option to set it as “public”, or “private”. A private network allows your PC to be seen by other devices connected to the same network, and you can use it for file and printer sharing, but your PC can’t be seen by others if you’re connected to a public network, nor can you use it for file and printer sharing.
If you tend to visit cafés that offer free Wi-Fi or have your own home network set to public, you might have heard that such a network isn’t safe to connect to. But why exactly is that? And should your home network be public? Keep reading to find out more.
What exactly is a public Network?
Devices that aren’t trusted are connected to public networks, so their activities are completely hidden from each other. In the current version of Windows, a user is prompted to allow their PC to be seen by other people connected to the same internet while recommending that you only select yes if it’s a home network and not a public one.
By that, you’ve probably guessed it’s because allowing your PC to be seen by other devices connected to a public network isn’t safe, and this does apply to networks in educational institutes, airports, bus terminals, and even cafés. A private network, on the other hand, is connected to devices that you trust, so allowing them to see you is completely safe.
Oftentimes, a private network refers to a Wi-Fi connection in one’s own house.
Still, should you share files over a public network?
If you choose to share files across a public network, is it safe? While both Windows and macOS allow systems to share files over a public network, they still prompt their users to only do so if they’re on a private network, bluntly stating that it’s not safe. People you don’t know/trust can be connected to a public network, so of course, it won’t be safe.
You can use AirDrop on macOS (that’s set to file sharing over private networks by default) to share files over a public network, and down the line, Windows 10 is expected to add a similar feature, but for now, you get the option while connecting to the network.
File sharing is considered dangerous over a public network, and not just because you’re connected to the same network as strangers, but because the files shared may contain some malicious content. Also, your PC is more accessible if it’s visible to everyone else, leaving it open to software attacks.
So you should always refrain from sharing files, or sharing your PC’s location over a public network. You’re prompted to do so while connecting to a network, but if you’ve already connected to one without denying permission to share, you can turn it off by going to settings, and searching under Network&Internet>Status.
Follow the steps mentioned below for further guidance.
STEP 1: Once you open settings, select “Sharing options”.
STEP 2: You’ll be redirected to the Control Panel, where you can disable network sharing.
(On macOS, you can disable sharing and discovery from the System Preferences under Sharing. While you’re at it, restrict AirDrop or maybe keep it off unless you need it.)
So to answer your question: “Should my home network be public?”, no, it shouldn’t be. Public networks are not safe to connect to, and oftentimes allow the exchange of malicious files, and your location may be visible to others you don’t recognize.
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