IMAGINE this. You step inside this cozy restaurant with the main goal of enjoying a sumptuous meal in the company of a loved one or a good friend. Before you even care to look at the menu, you hastily scour and ask your attendant for this information-the WiFi password.

Aren’t we all guilty of this? This is exactly why we need to rethink the main purpose of getting connected to the Internet in the first place. For one, spending too much time online becomes one of the main hindrances for physical bonding. Secondly, and more importantly, not all people are aware that connecting to free public WiFi is also somehow risky. Too bad, not everything that is free is always good.

The so-called “hotspots” are the WiFi connections that we usually look for in public places such as the malls, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and even car wash centers. From a network security perspective, there is indeed a handful of threats that come with the free WiFi access, especially if the network has weak security features which hackers can easily manipulate and take advantage of. Here are some of the most common risks that people should be aware of regarding using public internet connections:

According to Norton, a leading network security provider, the first common threat on these type of networks is called the Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack, a form of eavesdropping where “a computer makes a connection to the Internet, data is sent from point A (computer) to point B (service/website), and vulnerabilities can allow an attacker to get in between these transmissions and “read” them.” This means that, while many believe that using these connections is under a private network, sadly, this is not true. With this attack, the hacker can access every bit of information that you send using the internet such as your usernames and passwords, credit card details, emails, and more.

Another form of public WiFi risk is called snooping and sniffing where hackers use software kits and devices to view the websites that you have visited, including all the information that you encoded in the internet. Thus, with all these data gathered, cyber criminals will be able to hijack all your accounts and use them to your disadvantage.

The third one is called the “rogue WiFi network.” This connection disguise as the legitimate WiFi access points by using indistinctly similar names. Say, instead of connecting to “GoodHotelWifi”, a rogue WiFi spot will mask as “GudHotelWifi” tricking users to connect to this instead of the secured wifi connection.

So, how do we stay safe using free WiFi connections? First, use a virtual private network or VPN when surfing using your laptop, cellphone, or tablet. At the same time, you must also disable private sharing and visit only sites using HTTPS. You should also log out immediately once you’re done using your accounts and as much as possible, do not access your important accounts such as mobile baking using free wifi. Also, avoid logging onto a network that is not password protected.

The next time we’re hanging out in a café or a diner, let’s not waste our moments just surfing the net. Instead, let’s cherish the precious time with our loved ones over delicious food and hearty talks.