Free Wi-Fi can be of great help, especially when you are traveling. And the huge data roaming prices will make most of us click the “join” button whenever it’s possible to connect to a free network. It’s best to understand the risks that you are exposing yourself to before making use of free airport Internet, though.

First of all, public Wi-Fi networks are the ideal playground for hackers, who have access to lots of tools that allow them to steal your data. If a hacker is near you, he or she can connect to the same network, and then have access to all your files and passwords.

Others set up fake networks using laptops, extend their ranges using high gain antennas and RP-SMA extension cables, and then give them legit names. It’s not a surprise to see a network named Starbucks in an airport, after all. Then, they will patiently wait for people to connect to their network. The minute you do that, you are practically giving them access to your smartphone’s or laptop’s content.

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I know, it’s quite scary, but fortunately there are several steps that you can take to protect your data.

Begin by making sure that your device uses the most up to date security patches. Even the best antiviruses and firewalls in the world aren’t able to protect you, if the OS misses the needed updates.

Sadly, many smartphone manufacturers prefer to keep only their latest models up to date, forgetting about the poor guy, who has paid them a hefty sum a year ago. I can understand that a business is supposed to make profit, but this shouldn’t happen on our expense. Of course, things change if you are the proud owner of a Nexus phone.

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So what are we supposed to do then? It’s best to use the safest device that you own whenever you need to connect to a free network. Sure, it’s convenient to check your email using a smartphone, but if its operating system hasn’t been updated in ages, you should use a laptop that’s kept up-to-date instead.

By the way, a laptop may be bulkier than a phone or tablet, but often times it has fewer apps that can lead to trouble. Windows-based computers users can disable network and file sharing with only a few mouse clicks, for example.

It is wise to avoid using credit cards when you are connected to free Wi-Fi. Also, avoid typing in sensitive passwords, and if you really need to do that, be sure to use two factor authentication.

If you really need to connect to your bank, use the services offered by a virtual private network, aka a VPN. By doing this, you will be able to create a virtual tunnel, through which your data can travel straight to the destination website.

Of course, even the best VPN in the world won’t help you in case that your device is infected with viruses. So be sure to install the best antivirus for your device, even if you will have to pay some money for it. You’re going to save much more in the end and make your travel experience a pleasant one.