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Unfortunately, network sniffing is a very simple thing to do and it has actually nothing to do with the network discovery option.

Hi, Leo. I have a Windows 7 PC and I read your Wi-Fi hotspot article about ways to stay safe in public places like a café. I was wondering, couldn't you just turn off network discovery and your computer wouldn't be seen? For instance, I use my neighbor's Wi-Fi (he doesn't mind), but I simply turn off my network discovery so if he goes to his network, my computer won't even be visible. I also have AVG and Windows firewall. Just wondering about these matters. Thanks.

Network discovery is really one small portion of the overall communications protocol. Network discovery is really about Windows being able to find other Windows machines or other kinds of machines on the network. It has to do with things like file transfers, network sharing, file sharing, and so forth.

None of which you should do in an open hotspot.

Network discovery and Wi-Fi

Why? If you're sending data between your computer and the Wi-Fi hotspot over an open hotspot, your data is being transmitted in the clear. It can be viewed, intercepted and sniffed by someone with basically another laptop and a Wi-Fi card.

Network Discovery option

Sniffing is a very simple thing to do and it has actually nothing to do with the network discovery option. Sure, you can turn it off to prevent the casual or accidental discovery of your machine, but it doesn't protect the data that you're transmitting. And it doesn't stop sniffers from discovering your machine's local IP address - even if they can't see the name of your machine on the network.

You're still vulnerable

Remember network discovery really is about understanding that the machine has a name and "this" is where it lives. By sniffing the traffic going to and from the Wi-Fi router, any sniffer can discover, "There's a machine at this IP address. Let's go see how it's vulnerable."

Turning off network discovery doesn't stop your machine from being discovered on the network. It's a nice feature but not something to be relied on at all for more general security.

Article C6402 - April 18, 2013 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
Alex Dow
April 23, 2013 11:24 AM

Have you checked with another PC, Laptop etc, that your usage is not directly detectable with a sniffer program such as inSSIDer?

Additionally, if your neighbour logs in to his Router/Modem, I suspect that your PC would show up on some manner.

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