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Although some Wi-Fi may appear to be free, you're likely paying for it somehow -like with your information. But public Wi-Fi can also have risks that come with unsecured networks. Here's how to ensure you don't share more information on free Wi-Fi than you should.

This article originally appeared on Discover & Learn on September 20, 2022.

Cybercrime is rising, affecting individuals, families and businesses alike. That’s the bad news. The good news is that being cyber safe doesn’t take a lot of work — instead, it’s a matter of knowing what to do to keep hackers and scammers out of your systems and accounts. Our Cyber Safety 101 series is designed to give you some basic tools and tips that can go a long way to protecting yourself, your family and your data in the digital world.

Public Wi-Fi is everywhere — from coffee shops to shopping malls to hotel lobbies, making it easier for anyone to get online from just about anywhere. But that’s part of the problem when it comes to online security. Because it’s easy to gain access, there are many ways cyber criminals can take advantage of unsuspecting Wi-Fi users with a few simple tools and tactics.

While free public Wi-Fi is not secure, you don’t have to stop using it altogether to stay safer online. Instead, start taking a few steps to protect yourself and your information.

Here are 4 smart Wi-Fi habits to get into:

1. Avoid the sensitive stuff

Because public Wi-Fi networks don’t offer a secure connection, fraudsters can easily monitor an unsecured network to see exactly what you’re doing on your laptop. Avoid logging into any accounts that hold private or sensitive information and entering credit card details on shopping sites.

2. Add an extra layer of security

If you have to use a public hotspot to log into work, banking or other personal accounts, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is a group of computers or networks that work together to secure and encrypt your information. Rather than your traffic going straight from your device to the server, a VPN routes it through its own server beforehand. It’s almost like a private tunnel for your personal online activity.

3. Check over your shoulder

Sometimes being in a public place may leave you vulnerable to cyber criminals who can be crafty snoopers. Make sure no one is watching what you’re typing or where you’re going online.

4. Keep up your other online safety habits

Even if you use a secure Wi-Fi connection, it’s always important to maintain your online precautions — use strong passwords, never leave your device unattended and avoid entering personal and financial information into unsecured sites (always look for the lock symbol and the extra “s” at the end of HTTP in the URL or web address bar).

Looking for more ways to protect yourself online? Our Cyber Security Playbook, The Vault, comes with great Wi-Fi safety tips — for when you’re in public and at home. Plus, it has more practical pointers to boost your cyber skills.

Visit The Vault for more tips.