What privacy and security risks am I exposing myself to when I connect my MacBook to an open insecure wireless network?

Are there any risks that are worse or better when compared to a Windows PC that's connected to an insecure wireless network? 

  • 1
    Great question. The more people know the risks, the better.
    – mkelley33
    Feb 2, 2011 at 2:40

3 Answers 3


The primary concern is that any HTTP communications (and other non-secured communications) could be intercepted, including cookies, which often contain your login information. Note that secure communications (HTTPS) have other methods to keep your information safe, so financial communications are usually safe.

The secondary concern is that your Mac can be directly attaqued by any other computer within a 50 m radius. If your Mac doesn't have its firewall on, then this attack may lead to some file access (through guest account), and some remote control (through Apple Remote Desktop, VNC or more secret system vulnerabilities).

This security risk exists equally whether you are using OS X, Windows, Linux, or any other operating system, and there are no additional risks (nor less) on any platform.

  • 1
    A good example of when this might bite you: Let's imagine you go to your favorite coffee shop. The owners are so giving that they didn't set a password on their wireless network. This also means that someone using codebutler.com/firesheep might hijack or ruin your account for one of the sites you frequent.
    – mkelley33
    Feb 2, 2011 at 2:37

Just because we're rocking a very secure OS, doesn't mean viruses, malware and the like can't happen. Be vigilant, all the time. It is a misconception that you are not prone to virii. Basically: all the same risks as if you connected a PC laptop to an insecure wireless network. Just with a lower probability of getting attacked.

  • 1
    All true, but not specific to using an insecure wireless network. They would apply to any network connection.
    – KeithB
    Feb 2, 2011 at 16:24
  • As an aside: I ALWAYS have my firewall enabled. I've never found that it interferes with anything. I don't use the "hardcore" mode ("Block all incoming connections") unless I am in an environment I know or suspect is hostile. I do however enable stealth mode, and at some point I will consider using MarcoPolo to switch me back and forth between "hardcore" mode and not, depending on whether I'm home (reg firewall only), or in a trusted location (reg firewall only), or out in the field (hardcore).
    – Harv
    Feb 2, 2011 at 21:35

the simples trick is: 1-someone is looking over your shoulder what you typing (in public place) so DO NOT type, use copy/paste for password (stored previously in a document !) so they do not see which keys you are using. 2- Turn on Firewall, use only httpS in your browser ect... 3-What kind of Public WiFi are you connecting to? 3.1- one where you just jump on (fully open). 3.2 Anyone with logon info can join (bars, hotels, ect (still risky). 3.3 Connecting to a public router (with many others) but you have your unique/personal log in (only router owner/administrator can screw you).

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