Public Wi-Fi hotspots are a convenience provided by many businesses to allow customers to connect to the internet as they enjoy a latte, a meal, or wait for an upcoming flight. Convenient, yes. Safe? Maybe not. Connecting to a public Wi-Fi network has been called the online equivalent of sharing a syringe, literally opening yourself to a host of potential threats.

Safe or not, there are times when you need to connect. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself and your personal data when connected to public Wi-Fi.

Verify the hotspot: Verify the actual name of the network with an employee before you connect. Cyber-criminals use fake networks to confuse you and give them access to your computer.

Make sure your Firewall is turned on: This will prevent unauthorized access to your PC.

Turn off file sharing: This one step makes access to your computer more difficult.

Keep antivirus running and up-to-date: This is your best defense against known viruses and Trojan attacks.

Use VPN software: For a few dollars a month, you can have your own virtual private network that will encrypt any data moving to and from your computer.

Avoid checking sensitive data: Resist the urge to check social media or check your email or bank balance. If connecting to these sites is unavoidable, consider investing in VPN software. PC Magazine recently published its Top Ten list.*

If you need to connect, be smart about it. A little advanced planning and common sense will help you keep your personal data secure when you use public Wi-Fi.

George Maginnis