Originally Posted by Riq
I may be showing my ignorance here but are you not opening yourself up to all of these problems by plugging your laptop into someone elses network?
No, not exactly - you open yourself up to a different set of problems but they are less likely to result in your bank account balance being wired to Russia, especially if you keep your computer updated.
Public access computers easily become infected with malware because they are used by so many different people. Common vectors:
* A user inadvertently downloads an infected piece of software.
* A user inserts a camera memory card which contains a virus. The virus probably came from having earlier inserted it in an infected machine elsewhere.
* A malicious traveler deliberately installs spyware.
* A malicious internet cafe owner (or employee) deliberately installs spyware.
There are steps that internet cafe owners can take to try to secure their computers against the first two vectors, but my observation is that very few do. A *lot* of computers out there are infected.
In contrast, when you plug your personal computer into a network, there are really only two ways for malicious software to be installed:
* You accidentally do so by downloading and running a bad piece of software.
* A remote piece of software must "hack" into your computer through a vulnerability in the network software running on your computer.
#1 is easily prevented by simply not downloading software or by using virus scanning software.
#2 is not easy if your computer is up-to-date. When new vulnerabilities are discovered, Microsoft, Apple, Red Hat, Ubuntu, etc are usually pretty quick to produce a fix. As long as you keep running Windows Update regularly you should have a reasonably secure system.
BTW, if you never run Windows Update, your machine is probably already p0wned, even if you just have it plugged in at home. There are hundreds of widely known vulnerabilities in a new, unpatched installation of Windows (any flavor) and there are millions of already-infected computers automatically scanning the internet for fresh victims. Not long ago I recall reading a study which found that the average amount of elapsed time between plugging a brand-new (unpatched) Windows box into the network and it being successfully hacked is about four minutes.
Running Linux or MacOS doesn't give you immunity from this problem - you still need to run the software updater. Both have known vulnerabilities which have been fixed in updates.
There is one other issue you might be concerned about
: Can someone on the network eavesdrop on my network connection, even if I am using my own computer? As buebo pointed out, not if you are visiting a website that uses SSL encryption. All banks do. Gmail will if you select it in your preferences (by default it doesn't). Even facebook uses SSL for the password exchange. The bottom line is that this is not a huge worry these days.