Public vs. Private Networks

A common mistake that results in massive security breaches and frustrating technical problems is the misunderstanding of Public and Private networks.

Notebooks, Laptops and Tablet computers are often taken to alternate work locations like coffee shops, hotels or conference centres, where free WiFi is offered. Upon connecting to these systems, a machine might require a Public or Private designation for your Firewall settings.

For some, the immediate response is; “I certainly want privacy!” and they set it to Private. This actually tells the computer that you are in a private network and don’t need security settings on this network. This allows potential hackers within the same network to gain access to your machine. The same designation can be requested by your system if you open a network browser window and it pops up a security bar asking if you would like to set this network as public or private.

Alternatively, if you’re at home or at work and there has been a change to the WiFi configuration, your machine may have the same request for a public/private designation. Leaving your machine set to the default “Public” network would cause stringent firewall settings to be put in place, making it impossible to connect to servers, NAS devices, printers and scanners requiring 2-way communication, or gaming.

“Private” in a network setting context refers to trusted networks and allows devices on your Local Area Network (LAN) to gain access to allowed features on your device.

“Public” in a network setting context tells the system that it is in an untrusted network with unknown devices and all firewall security should be implemented. These settings can be reviewed or changed from your Windows search bar by typing “Network”, clicking on the Network Status option, and clicking the Properties option.

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