Millions of Americans use Wi-Fi internet connections on a daily basis, and rarely encounter problems with them. However, depending upon where and how they use those hotspots, they may be putting themselves at significant risk of hacking attacks, identity theft, and the like. As a consequence, it's important for people to remember the best security practices for using Wi-Fi both in their homes and in public, because even knowing the basics can be incredibly helpful.

The area where consumers face the biggest threat on Wi-Fi is when they use it in public, at places like coffee shops, restaurants, shopping centers, and so on, according to a report from Investor's Business Daily. That's because if one person can use them, anyone in the area can, including people who plan to hack those networks. And because so many people connect not only laptops, but also smartphones and other devices to these networks, that may put them at significant risk for being targeted.

"When you join a Wi-Fi network, and I can join that same network, I know that I can attack your computer," Josh Wright, a Providence, Rhode Island-based security consultant, told the site. "And the Wi-Fi hot spot provider, whether it's a coffee shop or whatever, really has no interest in providing additional security for you because that's an added cost for them."

Entering sensitive information on a public Wi-Fi network is dangerous.Entering sensitive information on a public Wi-Fi network is dangerous.

What can be done?
The smartest thing people can do with respect to staying safe on public Wi-Fi networks is to not use them, but sometimes this is unavoidable, the report said. For that reason, it's also smart for anyone connecting to such a network to make sure they have up-to-date virus protection and firewall software that can help them detect any efforts to gain control of his or her system or the files contained on it.

Another important issue to keep in mind here is that not joining a Wi-Fi network on a smartphone is actually the most secure thing that can be done, because these devices have unique one-to-one connections with the service provider and their transmissions cannot be intercepted in nearly all cases. As such, when there is a need to transmit sensitive data, including credit card or bank account details, private personal information, and so on, using these devices without Wi-Fi is often a smart way to go.

What about at home?
Meanwhile, it's important for people to make sure the Wi-Fi networks they use at home are secure as well. In much the same way unprotected public connections can allow hackers access to people's computers, home networks can fall into the same category as long as any potential attackers happen to be in the area. Consequently, home computers should also have anti-virus and firewall programs installed, and passwords for home Wi-Fi networks should follow industry standard guidelines.

The best passwords are those that are long, and which incorporate a series of numbers, letters, and symbols. It's often even wiser to make those passwords totally random, and change them on a regular basis. By doing so, consumers can make sure all their most important information is kept as secure as possible.