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Now that restaurants and retailers are reopening, you might find yourself outside a store that's limiting the number of patrons allowed inside. Like everyone else, you might choose to play on your phone while waiting.
Or perhaps you're in a doctor's office that has taken the precaution of removing communal magazines in the waiting room. So you might find yourself pulling out your small tablet instead.
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Unless you want to use your mobile data plan to go online, which could get expensive, chances are you'll search for a Wi-Fi hot spot to join for free browsing. The practice is common even if few people are teleworking from coffee shops right now.
But you'll want to be safe while using a hot spot because cybercriminals have been known to exploit these open networks to steal your data. You shouldn't have to trade security for convenience.
Be selective and look for the lock
First things first: If you don't know how to join a hot spot, it usually means opening your device's Settings section, going to Wi-Fi and scanning for nearby networks. If a Wi-Fi name has no padlock beside it, it should be open to join with no password.
The problem is that a network called StarbucksFreeWiFi or HiltonFree might seem innocent enough, but it could be a classic "man-in-the-middle” attack that hackers use to dupe people. You could be joining a rogue Wi-Fi network instead of the real one. For that reason, never allow your mobile phone to automatically join any Wi-Fi network that operates without a password.
Find out the official name of the legitimate Wi-Fi network from the barista, hotel clerk or anyone else who works at the establishment. Your best bet when choosing a hot spot is a secured network — often seen with a lock icon next to the network name — instead of an open network.
In some cases, a Wi-Fi network will look like it's unlocked but will require that you type in a password once you open a browser. This also is fine.