Public wireless hotspots aren’t the only ones that present a theoretical security risk; your wireless network at home harbors hacker potential, too. It’s theoretically possible (barely) for so-called war drivers (people who drive around with laptops, looking for unprotected home WiFi networks) to piggyback onto home networks to download child pornography or to send out spam.
This one’s easy to nip in the bud:
Turn on wireless encryption. When you first set up your WiFi router (your base station or access point), you’re offered the chance to create a password for your network. Take that chance. (Modern wireless routers offer two different types of password-protected encryption, called WEP and WPA. If it’s available, choose the more modern, more secure one, which is WPA.)
You then have to enter the password when you first connect to that hotspot from each wireless PC on your network.
You won’t have to type this password every time you want to get onto your own network! Windows offers to memorize it for you.
Ban unwanted PCs. Many routers include a feature that lets you limit network access to specific computers. Any PC that’s not on the list won’t be allowed in. The feature is called MAC address filtering, although it has nothing to do with Macintosh computers. (It stands for media access control, which is a serial number that uniquely identifies a piece of networking hardware.)
Not all routers can do this, and how you do it varies from router to router, ...