Whether you’re taking a trip to the grocery store or around the world, one thing you’ll likely find just about anywhere you go now are Wi-Fi networks. Having a wide range of Internet access points can be very handy but it’s important to understand how to reduce the risk you’ll unintentionally share private information over a public Wi-Fi network.

The next time you sit down to get some work done and use Wi-Fi to get connected, keep these tips in mind.

Disable (or carefully configure) home sharing. While Wi-Fi is primarily used for wireless Internet access, it can also replace the need for cables between machines. You can wirelessly connect your PC to your printer, camera and other computers in your home. Windows users can control sharing by going to Control Panel and then HomeGroup to manage automatic sharing settings. Mac users can go to System Preferences and then Sharing to see what is turned on for their machine.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPNs are often described as a private “tunnel” that provides a secure connection between a user and your company’s network from a public access point. If your business uses VPN technology, it’s worth doing some staff training to make sure everyone knows they are expected to use it whenever they work on a public Wi-Fi network and how to properly connect.

Look for HTTPS in your web browser address bar. Websites that have addresses that begin with HTTS (instead of HTTP) are using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to create a private connection between your laptop and the site.

Mobile online banking is better done over a cell connection. If you find yourself out and about and need to transfer funds on your phone, the best way to do this is to login to your account through your bank’s approved mobile app after turning off your Wi-Fi connection.

“Forget” public Wi-Fi networks when you’re done. Many mobile phones and PCs will automatically connect to known Wi-Fi networks when they encounter them again. A good safety tip is to manually forget a public network when you have finished your session. This prevents your phone or laptop from joining the network again without your permission.

Confirm official network names and passwords. Hackers will setup an open Wi-Fi network near a coffee shop or hotel and call the name of the network “Starbux” or “Hilton Wifi” to bait unsuspecting users in to connecting to the fake network. Ask a staff member for the correct name and password to make sure that you join the real Wi-Fi option.

Following these safety tips will reduce the chance you may expose any private data the next time you take advantage of the convenience of public Wi-Fi.

Photo credit: my wifi hotspot is cooler than yours by woodleywonderworks (CC by 2.0)

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