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You’re at a public library—or fast-food restaurant or coffee shop—and realize you’ve left your smartphone at home. But you really need a certain statistic for the project you’re working on, so you log on to the public Wi-Fi network using your laptop or another electronic device. After agreeing to the use terms, you’re in—but before you look up the information you need, just how safe is it for you to surf around? The short answer: It depends.

When you use your home Wi-Fi, you’re connecting to a system that’s closed to everyone but you and other household members who have the network key or password. Your access is secure and relatively free of congestion. But when you’re using a public network, you’re more vulnerable to information theft and other security hazards. You don’t know who else is logged on, what they’re logged on for, or if they have a habit of compromising other people’s data.

If You Must Use Public Wi-Fi, Mind the Source

Sometimes, using a public network is unavoidable. It’s also convenient since Wi-Fi is available just about everywhere. So, if you really must log on, try to use a secured network. This kind of network will require a security password or login, and most likely will ask you to agree to use terms and conditions. It’s not 100% foolproof, but a secured network is certainly less hazardous than an unsecured one.

Be Mindful of Where You’re Surfing

When browsing online, try to stick to websites that use an “HTTPS” connection, which will be clearly visible in the URL on your browser’s navigation bar. The information on these sites is encrypted (making them more secure), whereas sites with “HTTP” connections aren’t. Remember, the “S” in HTTPS stands for “Secure.”

If you do browse any HTTP sites on public Wi-Fi, people around you who know what they’re doing will be able to see what information is traveling between you and the server that houses the site. And even if you’re using a secured site or network, try to avoid entering sensitive personal information, such as debit or credit card numbers.

Bluetooth Is Great—But Not in Public

Bluetooth connectivity has revolutionized communication between electronic devices, which can be a great convenience at home. But in a public place, it’s a big security risk because hackers can gain access to your device through open Bluetooth signals. When you’re away from home, keep this capability turned off.

Try Using a VPN

The best way to use Wi-Fi in public is through a virtual private network or VPN. By installing a VPN client on your device, you’ll ensure any data traveling to or from it is much less accessible to others using the same connection. This is because the VPN is encrypted. A good VPN is worth the fee it takes to access the service. To see which VPNs rank best, see PC Magazine’s top picks for 2019.

ITque—The Secure Wi-Fi Provider

If you would like help making sure your online privacy is protected on public Wi-Fi or anywhere else, call ITque at 408-641-7030. Our technicians have 127 years of combined IT experience serving businesses in Northern California.