Everyone agrees that public hotspots should never be used to transfer sensitive data. Of course, there’s always the temptation of making use of free Wi-Fi, rather than using precious, costly bytes from your own data plan. Nevertheless, if you use free Wi-Fi to connect to your bank account, for example, you may lose much more money.

So how do you minimize the risks when you use a public hotspot? Read on to learn the key aspects of the problem, as well as the solutions.

Everything begins with the type of websites that you plan to access. As mentioned above, you should avoid connecting to your online banking account in the first place. Then, you should only connect to sites that encrypt the sent / received data.

The good news is that the https protocol has been implemented by all the top sites, so you shouldn’t have problems accessing Facebook, Twitter, etc. Nevertheless, if you do access these sites, be prepared to lose those accounts; https has been vulnerable for over two years before being patched, so anything can happen.

Researchers at Data Alliance point out that even the free Wi-Fi scanners that are available on the market can do a lot of damage, intercepting data packets and decrypting them, especially if they use a high gain antenna connected through a high quality antenna cable. And to make the things even worse, there are many powerful Wi-Fi scanners running on mobile phones these days.

If you have a tablet or a laptop running Windows, you should make sure that Windows Firewall is running on both private and public networks. The settings can be enabled / verified by accessing the Control Panel.

You should also make sure that you aren’t sharing any data over the network. The good news is that the more recent Windows versions disable sharing by default. Nevertheless, you should check the properties of each drive listed in “My Computer” or “Computer”, making sure that nothing is shared. Oh, and turn off “Network Discovery” as well.

One of the most secure (though not infallible) ways of securing your connection is to make use of a VPN (virtual private network). There are free VPN services out there, but as always, if you choose a paid service you are going to enjoy a better quality service.

Of course, having access to a secure Internet connection won’t help that much if your laptop isn’t kept up to date. Make sure to update Windows and other apps (particularly the ones made by Adobe) on a regular basis, using a piece of software like Secunia Personal Software Inspector.

If you use your phone to access the internet using free Wi-Fi, try to limit the number of apps that are installed on it. And if you really need an app, choose its paid version; otherwise, you may end up having a lot of spyware in your phone. To add an extra layer of security, only download and use apps from trusted sources like Google Play Store, iTunes, etc.