Whether you’re using a personal WiFi network set up in a home or a public hotspot, there are certain steps users can take to help protect their personal data security. A survey conducted by Wakefield Research in August 2011 found that about 97% of users feel their data is secure when using WiFi networks.

The survey analyzed responses from about 1,000 individuals ages 18 and older regarding their perceptions of WiFi security. However, many of the same survey respondents neglect to take appropriate precautionary measures when utilizing WiFi networks. Only 66% of survey respondents reported taking recommended steps to secure their personal data when using public networks.

So what are the recommended steps for securing personal and business data on a wireless network?

1. Secure home networks with a strong password

Unsecured networks allow anyone within range to access a network, and unless appropriate privacy and sharing settings are implemented, unauthorized users could access personal information not intentionally shared with network users.

A strong password typically contains both uppercase and lowercase letters, at least one number and one special character. Strong passwords should be a minimum of eight characters long. These passwords are more difficult for users to remember, but a password helper application can be of tremendous value for individuals using multiple password-protected websites.

2. Turn off automatic sharing features

If you use a wireless network both at home and in public hotspots, it’s imperative to turn off your PC’s automatic sharing features. Most Windows operating systems automatically contain a simple sharing feature. Specific instructions for disabling this function depend on the generation of Windows operating system you’re using, although users can easily obtain detailed instructions by Googling “disable automatic sharing.”

3. Install a firewall

A firewall is a digital barrier which prevents other users from gaining access to various locations on your PC’s hard drive. Firewalls can be configured with different settings, but it’s important to have one in place if you ever use a public, unsecured network.

4. Deactivate auto-detect for unknown networks

It’s easy to allow our PCs to connect automatically to any detected, unsecured network, otherwise known as ad-hoc mode. The more cumbersome, yet safer, choice is to connect only to known networks upon approval to avoid connecting to random unsecured hot spots.

5. Don’t connect needlessly

If you’re not using your laptop or PC and will be entering a hot spot, remove your WiFi card and disable your connection. Remaining connected to an open, unsecured network needlessly can leave your PC vulnerable.

6. Make important data private

Users can set folders to private or even password-protect important documents. It’s always advisable to do so if ever using an open network.

7. Don’t share files and printers

As an add-on to point #6, disabling file and printer-sharing functions can add a layer of security.