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Public Wi-Fi is everywhere. It’s in hotels and health clubs and even shopping malls.

But how secure is your computer if you choose the “Public Network” setting to connect on your computer?

The “Public” network-location setting has the built-in Windows 7 Firewall program to block certain programs and services from running when you are connected.

The setting also turns off file sharing and the network discovery feature that lets you see other computers and devices on the network – and for those other computers and devices to see you.

While the “Public” option does offer the most security available within Windows 7, it is still good to be careful what you do when connected to the hotel’s network – especially if the password is known to everyone using the facilities. Keep in mind that you are not acquainted with all the other network users, nor do you really know the full security practices used by the venue itself.

Before connecting, make sure your Windows 7 system is fully up to date with the latest security patches. If you are running a third-party Internet security suite like Norton or AVG, check that it has all the latest updates too.

Connecting to the Wi-Fi network through a virtual private network (VPN) program that encrypts your Internet data traffic adds another layer of protection. If you do not have access to a VPN through work or home, services like Hotspot Shield, OpenVPN or ProXPN are available. F-Secure’s Freedome or Avast SecureLine VPN apps are among those that bring a VPN to mobile devices.

If you do not add your own security measures, try to avoid doing anything on the hotel’s network that involves passwords to financial institutions or other accounts that are linked to credit cards.