Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.
Q: In the past year as I traveled to different locations and different hotel chains, I noticed what to me is a worrisome trend. The hotels seem to have changed to offering wireless internet to their users that isn’t secure. I do have and use at those times virtual private network options, but unfortunately, I don’t anticipate that most of the population is aware of the dangers they may be exposing themselves to from hackers. I was surprised to find this even in at least one hotel in Washington, D.C., where I would have presumed that security for the travelers might be even more important.
Users who will have to provide a room number and name, or a password, will assume that since they do that, the connection is secure, when it isn’t. What are your thoughts, and is there anything that can be done to have the hotels return to providing secure wireless like they did a couple of years ago?
— Joel Ivey
A: I share your concerns. For my part, I don’t trust any public Wi-Fi to be secure, even those that require a password and login. Most public networks don’t use secure passwords, so it’s far too easy for hackers to guess that information or otherwise get access to the network.
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As a result, like you I use a virtual private network (VPN) program whenever I’m on a public network. Yes, there’s a small hit in performance, but the fact that all traffic going into and out of my computer is encrypted is worth it. And, by the way, VPN software has gotten much easier to set up and use in recent years.
Q: I had downloaded a few videos from the internet and used to watch them on my Windows XP laptop. When I upgraded to Windows 10, the videos are not playing and a lock sign is seen on every video icon. The files are also not being transferred to a hard disk. How do I unlock and view the videos?
— Vaibhav Dhonsekar
A: Generally, my advice when video won’t play is to update your graphics adapter’s drivers. And that’s probably a good idea in any case.
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But you write that the videos that won’t play have a lock symbol in their icons. That indicates that those files are either encrypted or the current user does not have rights to open the files. Unencrypting and changing file rights are moderately complicated processes that may involve a number of different actions. You’ll find detailed instructions for doing so here: https://appuals.com/how-to-remove-padlock-or-lock-icon-from-files-on-windows-10/.
Note: I recently ran a column in which I discussed the speed difference between connecting to the internet over a wireless router and connecting directly to a cable modem’s Ethernet port. I didn’t note for readers that some cable modems don’t offer sufficient built-in protection. Concerned about that oversight, one reader responded:
“I am a computer security professional. I wanted to let you know one piece of advice you gave in your column on Jan 5 was potentially dangerous. In response to a question about 200 Mbps speeds from a gigabyte connection, you suggested connecting to the Ethernet port on the cable modem. Comcast these days gives you a combined cable modem router, so connecting to the inside Ethernet port gives you a … private address. That is fine. But connecting to a cable modem that does not have a Network Address Translation (NAT) router built in gives your computer a publicly routable IP address. The public internet is hostile — scans are constant and any vulnerabilities are probed and exploit attempts are also constant. You should never expose a PC directly to this. Hide it behind the kind of NAT router most people have at home and you essentially eliminate this issue. Unfortunately, in your answer you just mention cable modem, and people who only have a modem could read that, try it, and expose themselves to this risk.” — Brian Hooper
Thanks, Brian, for taking the time to write in and help me keep readers informed and digitally secure.