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The Three Biggest Mistakes You Can Make Using Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi has become about as essential as running water. Coffee shops that want to entice customers into buying that sixth cup of coffee offer unrestricted access to free Wi-Fi, while practically every airport in the world doles it out at a price — knowing full well that their captive customers will pay a small fortune for access while passing the time between flights. You can even tap into a wireless hotspot at a Mount Everest base camp, for when you just have to Instagram that climbing selfie.

Despite all the benefits of public internet access, there's a major risk lurking behind your browser. Everything you send, receive, and view while using a public Wi-Fi connection is up for grabs by hackers, governments, and even that unassuming guy sitting next to you on the same network.

And it's not only people stealing your sensitive data that you have to worry about. Hackers and cybercriminals can also take advantage of your unsecured connection by sending you a slew of viruses, tracking devices, and malware — all of which can compromise your system even further and bring your computer to a grinding halt.

Here are three of the biggest mistakes you can make while using public Wi-Fi:

1. Accessing and Transferring Your Sensitive Data

When we're traveling, we tend to need to access our most vital and sensitive information more often. Bank accounts need to be checked regularly to ensure there are enough funds to get home, social security numbers need to be transferred to secure travel visas, credit cards need to be used online to pay for train tickets that would otherwise require a currency conversion; the list is endless.

Unless you absolutely need to access or transfer this delicate information in an emergency, we suggest holding off until you're on a secure Internet connection (preferably one in which an actual cable is connecting your computer to the router instead of Wi-Fi). It's just too easy for hackers to pull this data from public Wi-Fi connections with a few quick clicks.

You might wonder why these hackers, who seem to have the world's largest governments shaking in their boots, would be interested in your relatively unimportant credit card numbers. Here's why: The average person tends to be far more desirable as a hacking target than a government office or major corporation, since average people so often fail to safeguard their information online. Governments and corporations, on the other hand, have teams of professionals in place to fight against potential breaches.

2. Skimming over the Terms and Conditions

Have you ever actually taken the time to read those long disclaimers that pop up every time you sign up for some public Wi-Fi? Like most of us, you probably click "I Accept" at the bottom of the screen and move on.

That's a mistake. One of the reasons why so many companies are eager to provide free, public Internet access to their patrons is because they want to mine their data in order to either sell them things in the near future, or pass it along to eager and sketchy third parties who are willing to pay top dollar for your browsing history.

More often than not, the terms and conditions you're agreeing to won't include anything terribly diabolical, yet sometimes they will include language that makes it clear your temporary internet provider intends to track and send your data elsewhere. (Disclaimers that seem to be needlessly long also tend to be a red flag.) A general rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution and seek out an alternative internet source.

3. Surfing Without a VPN

Let's face it: Regardless of how careful you are while traveling, or how prudent you are when it comes to accessing or transferring sensitive information online, sometimes you just need to use a credit card, access your banking information, or share some files.

That's why installing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) like Private Internet Access VPN is so important. These apps block malicious hackers and government spies from accessing your sensitive data, while disabling those endlessly annoying pop-up ads and web trackers. High-level encryption allows you to surf the web anonymously, securely, and without restriction regardless of where you are in the world.

VPNs also come in handy when you want to bypass those pesky geo-restrictions that prohibit you from watching your favorite shows or accessing your email while traveling in foreign countries.

Private Internet Access VPN has been rated a 4.5/5 by PC Mag and is jam-packed with features to ensure you remain safe while on public Wi-Fi. Right now, Curiosity readers can get a special deal on a 2-year subscription to Private Internet Access VPN. Get it now for just $59.95, 60 percent off the original $166 sales price.

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Public Wi-Fi Security Risks As Fast As Possible

Written by Curiosity Staff September 8, 2017