By John R. Levine, Margaret Levine Young

Your laptop, tablet, or phone can probably connect wirelessly to the Internet via Wi-Fi, which is available in many public places, like airports and coffee shops. Can you trust the Wi-Fi network? How do you know that the Wi-Fi network isn’t listening to what you type, including your passwords? You don’t, but there are ways to reduce the risk.

  • Connect to a reputable Wi-Fi hotspot, not some sleaze ball trying to trick you. Ask your barista or look for a sign with the name of the real Wi-Fi network. Never connect to “Free Wi-Fi Hotspot” or other generically named networks.

  • If your computer asks whether the Wi-Fi network is Public, Work, or Home, choose Public so that other Wi-Fi users can’t see the files on your hard disk.

  • Use secure https websites, which show a padlock icon in the browser next to the web address. Even if someone is listening in, all they see is the meaningless encrypted traffic.

  • Use different passwords for different websites, and don’t use your email password for anything else. You can use a simpler password for websites that don’t have your credit card number than the one you use for online banking. Try this: Use the first letter of each word in a phrase that describes the website or of a song that relates to the site.

  • If your cellphone and phone contract support tethering, it can act as your own private Wi-Fi access point. You turn on its personal hotspot feature and give your hotspot a name and password. Then choose that hotspot from your computer. Make sure that your phone’s data plan won’t bankrupt you, though.