Protect your data when using public Wi-Fi

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(CNN Philippines) – Here's a common scene at cafes or restaurants: Before asking for the menu, people first ask, "Do you have free Wi-Fi? What's the password?"

While it may be tempting to get free Internet access, it's best to be aware that you're jeopardizing your online safety when connecting to public networks.

It's ridiculously easy to steal your information if you're connected to a public network.

Here are a few tips then to keep your online data safe while connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

1. Secure your data with a firewall

If you're using your laptop, make sure its antivirus and anti-spyware software are turned on and up-to-date.

Never turn off your firewall because will protect your laptop from hackers who might try to steal your information or crash your computer.

2. Avoid typing sensitive content

Don't do your e-commerce transactions, such as online banking or online shopping, when connected to a public Wi-Fi network. Do those things in the safety of your home using your own connection.

Nelson Pascua, an IT systems and network administration supervisor, even discourages accessing your e-mail or Facebook account when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

"Doing research and viewing YouTube videos are the safest activities to do when connected to a public Wi-Fi. There is nothing to be stolen from you when you do these activities," he said.

3. Use HTTPS

Check the URL bar. If it starts with a "https://" and an icon of a padlock on its left side, it's most likely safe. Browsing sites with HTTPS will make you less susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks.

The difference between HTTP and HTTPS is that HTTPS has an added layer of security known as Secure Sockets Layer or SSL.

Google, Yahoo!, Twitter, Facebook, and online banking sites are some examples of websites that use HTTPS.

4. Keep your software and apps updated

Most of the time, software patches and application updates are created to improve its performance or fix it, including fixing security issues.

5. If you don't need to, don't.

Pascua said that if it is not extremely necessary to connect, don't. Connecting to a public Wi-Fi network means that you are also giving your information to the public, whether you like it or not.