Who doesn’t love free Wi-Fi? It allows you the flexibility to work from a coffeehouse or hotel room the same way you would from your office or home. Public Wi-Fi networks are convenient, allowing you to stay connected no matter where you are. But they’re also convenient for cybercriminals, as your personal data is less secure when you’re browsing on a public network.

If you use an unsecured public network, cybercriminals may be able to monitor every move you make. Cybercriminals make a living by intercepting usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, and any other private data unsuspecting internet users choose to reveal while browsing outside of their private network.

Relying on unfamiliar public Wi-Fi networks can sometimes be your only option, but you don’t always have to put your information at risk: A virtual private network can help you stay secure. Setting up a VPN can ensure your data is safe when you’re not using a trusted connection by encrypting data as it’s transmitted across shared or public networks, keeping your sensitive information from being exposed. 

If you telecommute or travel often, this extra layer of protection is essential.

What to Look for in a VPN

The first step you should take to protect your data when browsing on public networks is to use a VPN. When researching your options, you want to look for three critical security features.

The first feature to look for in a VPN is military-grade (256-bit) encryption. Free VPNs are abundant, but these typically share your browsing data with third parties. Your best bet is to purchase a subscription from a provider that offers a no-log VPN, which means the vendor won’t record your browsing data and later sell it to the highest bidder. When selecting a provider, be sure to read the fine print. Many are clear about how they treat your data, though 26 of the most popular free VPNs have actually admitted to logging user data despite claiming otherwise.

Next, you’ll want to be sure that your VPN provider has over 1,000 servers located worldwide. This ensures that there are always enough connection points and IP addresses to offer you a high-quality connection. 

Finally, purchase a VPN that connects automatically or allows you to start a secure connection with just one click. Having to log in and out of your VPN every time you want to get online can become a barrier to convenience and usability.

VPN Best Practices

Using a VPN while traveling will offer you a substantial layer of extra protection, especially if the VPN covers the bases outlined above. But you must also be mindful of VPN best practices to ensure you’re keeping your information as secure as possible:

1. Use your VPN consistently. When you’re traveling, especially for vacation, you’re typically focused on relaxing and enjoying your time away. It can be easy to forget the importance of cybersecurity when doing everyday things like logging in to your social media channels or checking your bank account, but this is how cybercriminals intercept your information.

Having a VPN that connects automatically is key to using it consistently. Just ensure that any time you access the internet away from home, you do so through your VPN.

2. Don’t forget about your phone. Browsing the internet on your phone through cellular data can also leave you exposed. Data transmitted via cellphone towers can still be intercepted, especially if you’re abroad and are relying on a nation’s local carrier. Malicious actors can launch a man-in-the-middle attack, which causes your phone to connect to a device designed for spying rather than a legitimate phone network.

Most VPN providers have phone apps for easy use during mobile browsing. Also, be sure you’re using your VPN on your computer if you connect to the internet through your phone’s hot spot.

3. Only use a VPN to check personal accounts. As a rule of thumb, it’s best not to check personal accounts from hotel Wi-Fi or public networks. Your VPN should be used in case you absolutely need to access social media, bank accounts, email, etc., while traveling in order to stay as secure as possible. Try not to insert any personal data or login information over a public network.

A VPN isn’t impenetrable, but it’s an important safeguard that can keep your sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands. Follow these best practices for using a VPN while traveling to ensure you’re protecting your important information to the best of your ability.

Monique Becenti is a product and channel marketing specialist at SiteLock, a cloud-based website security provider currently protecting more than 12 million websites globally. Monique is passionate about improving the customer experience for all. SiteLock’s combination of dedicated research and developmental efforts, aggressive product road maps, and access to a massive global data set make the company a leading innovator in web security.