Should you use public Wi-Fi? After all, when we’re out and about and want internet access, free public Wi-Fi networks are easy to find. There are free Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, restaurants, public parks, libraries, airports and hotels just to name a few. But are these connections safe?

In the past, most websites didn’t use encryption so your information may have been at risk. According to the Federal Trade Commission, today the widespread use of encryption means that connecting through a public Wi-Fi network is usually safe.

Still, how can we know that our connection is encrypted as communication and data passes from the browser to the website’s server?

Here are some things to think about when using public Wi-Fi.

Pay close attention to the URL. The uniform resource locator (URL) of the website in the address bar should begin with “https,” not “http.” Remember: The “s” in “https” stands for secure. There should also be a lock icon to the left of the website address.

Avoid sensitive activities. Online shopping, accessing financial accounts, healthcare portals and other sites with your sensitive and important data are best accessed via a secure private network.

Set up a VPN. On public Wi-Fi, using a virtual private network (VPN) from a trusted provider will increase the security of your data. A VPN acts like a tunnel to protect your data and shields it from outside hacking.

Update your operating system (OS). The most current updates typically contain the latest security features.

Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication. Use strong, unique passwords that include letters, numbers, and special characters. Check out the GPC blog Summertime Is a Good Time for a Password Refresh for more tips.

Always stay cautious of your Internet usage while on public Wi-Fi. Take as many safety measures as possible to prevent your information from being hacked and regularly check your accounts.

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