Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Connectivity is becoming an added "perk" in some housing situations. Make sure you know the risks when someone else provides your internet connection.
I'm a cable internet user now, but I'm moving into a new apartment where the landlord provides free wireless internet to me and two other tenants in the house. I just have to supply a wireless adapter/card for my PC. How do I take advantage of my new landlord's offer and at the same time protect my personal electronic information from the other tenants--and my landlord--when I cannot control the router?
I almost said, "just turn on your firewall and you'll be fine".
And then it dawned on me that no, you wouldn't be fine. Far from it, in fact. And that's the reason I'm touching on this scenario again, even though we've really discussed this exact problem a couple of times before, albeit with slight differences.
Whoever provides your internet access, be it an open WiFi hotspot, a hotel, your place of employment and even your ISP, can monitor your usage and might allow others on the network to sniff your traffic as well. It doesn't matter whether the connection is wired or wireless.
Now, in general, we trust our ISP, and perhaps our employer, but as we've discussed in earlier articles, it's a bad idea to trust hotels and open WiFi hotspots. Both are quite easily abused either by the administrator of the network, or by those willing to sit quietly in a hotel room or corner of the cafe and capture the internet traffic passing by. Doing so they can catch the accounts, passwords, and more, from users who haven't sufficiently protected themselves.
As generous as your landlord's offer is, it falls into exactly the same boat:
Your landlord is your ISP. If he's technically knowledgeable enough he could easily watch all the traffic on the network that he's providing.
Your neighbors (or anyone in range of the wireless network) could also easily watch all the traffic that you send wirelessly.
If this sounds familiar it's because it is: it's exactly the same risk that you run when using an internet cafe.
And as such, exactly the same solutions apply:
Secure connections - any connection that begins with https instead of http is an encrypted connection. So while your landlord or neighbors might see which sites you are visiting, the data actually sent to or displayed from the web site on an https connection is encrypted. Using an https connection to a service like GMail is one way to secure your email from snooping.
Anonymous Web Surfing - using services like Anonymizer, Tor or other services like them snoopers might be able to tell that you're using the service but they cannot tell where you're surfing; it's all encrypted.
Encrypted Email - there are several ways to send encrypted email. People watching will be able to see who you're emailing, but your message will be encrypted and hidden. Encrypted email is not easy for most people to set up, but it can be done. Also sending encrypted email does not encrypt your email account login information, which is typically sent in the clear.
VPN Services - There are services available that will allow you to set up a VPN or "Virtual Private Network" connection to their services which then connect you to the internet. These are typically meant for people who travel and use WiFi hotspots a lot.
Given that you'll be connecting this way almost exclusively in your new residence, I'd recommend a VPN as the easiest solution that will essentially take care of protecting everything you do from your landlord and/or neighbors.
On the other hand, getting your own internet connection independent of your landlord might also be worth at least a quick look and cost comparison.