By Chris Keller, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer

Did you know January 28th is Data Privacy Day (DPD)? DPD creates awareness about privacy and educates everyone about how their information may be collected and the benefits and risks of sharing personal information. In an effort to support DPD, here are some simple steps you can take to help make sure your data is safe on open public Wi-Fi.

Oftentimes, people jump on a public Wi-Fi network at a restaurant or hotel lobby — but these networks are open and not secure. Whether you’re using a laptop, tablet or smartphone, you’ll want to connect your device securely to protect your data as much as possible.

Look for ‘HTTPS’   Look for signs that the site is secure, which includes a URL address that begins with “https”. Using “https” (for visiting web sites) or enabling Secure Socket Layer (SSL) (when using applications that access the internet) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Use a VPN to Connect to the Hotspot  Unfortunately not all sites and search engines offer secure SSL encrypted protection. This makes the data flowing through those networks available for the bad guys to see your activity. So you might want to consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots. A VPN provides a secure and private way to connect to open networks.

Turn Off Sharing  When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them — they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected.

Keep a Clean Machine  Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats.