How to Check Network Privacy in Windows Vista

Windows Vista doesn’t let you create just any old peer-to-peer workgroup. Nope, it lets you configure a workgroup to be either public or private. That may seem like a silly choice, but it’s not: A public network requires more security. After all, the network is in the public. Who knows where those other people’s laptops have been?

A private network, however, is most likely the kind of network you have in your home or small office. The network isn’t (or shouldn’t be) visited by random folks driving by or stopping in for a quick download.

In Windows Vista, you can check whether the network you’re using is public or private and then reset the network type for your computer. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the Control Panel.

  2. Choose View Network Status and Tasks from beneath the Network and Internet heading.

    Windows Vista is upfront about whether the network is public or private: Next to the Network heading in the middle of the window, you see the text Public Network or Private Network.

  3. Click the Customize link.

  4. Choose Public or Private from the Set Network Location window.

    The Set Network Location Wizard appears.

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    Choose Public if the network is in a public location or in a situation where anyone can join the network. Choose Private when you control the entire network and only computers you know of are connected.

    Generally speaking, when in doubt, assume that you’re using a public network. A hotel room connection, for example, is public. Cybercafé? Public. The wireless network at your friend’s apartment? Public.

  5. (optional)Name your network or assign a new icon.

    Those settings are more for fun than for network security.

  6. Click the Next button.

  7. Type the administrator’s password or click the Continue button.

    Changing the network type is a security issue; you don’t want a random program or virus making the change for you.

  8. Click the Close button.

The changes you make don’t affect the entire network. After all, if you just joined a wireless network in a cybercafé, why would your computer be allowed to lord it over all other computers on the network? No, the public/private thing merely tells Windows how to treat the network.

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