Three-quarters of the population values Wi-Fi so much that a week without a connection would make them grumpier than a week without coffee. Who could blame them? Have you had to go to a business meeting lately with shoddy or non-existent Wi-Fi? Productivity goes down the tubes.

If we’re honest, many of us have dashed into an airport, coffee shop, hotel, or business desperately seeking Wi-Fi. You have to send that last minute email, forgot the latest draft of a client presentation at the office, or missed your puppy’s latest update on Instagram. In those moments of frantic searching, you look for the closest public Wi-Fi connection, hope that you won’t need an access code, and press connect.

Many times this scenario works out fine. Most airports, restaurants, hotels, and businesses offer free Wi-Fi for this very reason and are happy to share their name and access code with their patrons. However, there is a price for convenience—up to 95% of public networks leave users exposed because the information transmitted is not encrypted.  Everything shared over the network is completely open to prying eyes, including credit card numbers, emails, passwords, pictures, and browsing information.

By setting up an unsecure network in San Francisco, an experiment last year looked at how careful people are about how they use public Wi-Fi. In a single day, over 1500 people logged on without any idea who owned the network or what their intentions were. While the researchers hosting the network were not malicious, others do this on a regular basis to take advantage of individuals by stealing their data.

What do you need to do to avoid this situation, and keep yourself safe when using Wi-Fi? Start by following these guidelines:

If you’re a Wi-Fi user

  • No password? No go—If you are not required to enter a password or access code to log on to the network, it is most likely unencrypted, and thus insecure. Avoid conducting private business, like sending sensitive emails or banking.
  • Seek an S—Websites that begin with https:// are utilizing encryption to protect your data. The “S” stands for secure. Look for this on every page, not just a sign-in page.
  • Don’t automatically connect to networks—Turn off the auto-connect Wi-Fi feature on your laptop or phone. Only manually select networks to be fully aware of the connection you’re using.
  • Avoid copy cats—Sometimes, hackers create Wi-Fi networks with names extremely close to the real network to attempt to trick people.
  • Invest in a VPN—Utilizing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) even over a public connection will ensure that your data remains encrypted and safe.

If you’re responsible for a Wi-Fi network

  • Use appropriate security protocols—Your network should be protected using WPA2 encryption and EAP authentication to make sure only the people you desire have access.
  • Isolate the Wi-Fi—Separate your Wi-Fi network, particularly your guest network, with a firewall, so that you don’t inadvertently give away access to all of your sensitive data.
  • Monitor for rogue behavior—Like mentioned above, hackers like to create networks with names that mimic authentic networks to fool users. Consistently monitor the networks available on your premises.

View our IT support services to get assistance in keeping your data safe.