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Quit Making This Mistake When You Travel

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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Mobile security rules are kind of like suggested serving sizes. You know you're suppose to follow them, and sometimes you do, but sometimes you ignore them and eat the whole box of Girl Scout cookies anyway. It's why people still use the password "123456." And why, despite the danger of exposing their personal information, people will log onto almost any Wi-Fi network they stumble upon.

Cybersecurity company Avast Software decided to try an experiment regarding this at a place where many of us have likely logged onto questionable networks: the airport. Specifically, the Barcelona Airport, during Europe's big mobile technology conference, Mobile World Congress. The group created a few Wi-Fi networks with harmless sounding names — “Starbucks, Airport_Free_Wifi_AENA, and MWC Free Wi-Fi." Even though users didn't know who actually had control of those networks, their need to check Facebook had to be sated: 2,000 people logged onto the networks (or were automatically logged in) over the course of only four hours.

Avast was able to gather all sorts of info from those who used its Wi-Fi, from what apps they were using (52% had Facebook installed, 61% used Google) to which devices they were accessing the networks from — and from a majority of devices, the company could glean the user's identity.

Luckily for these travelers, the software company did this experiment only to showcase how easily we can be exposed to hackers — it wasn't out to gathering user data illicitly. Still, it's a good reminder that no Twitter update is worth risking identity theft, and that checking your banking information over seemingly safe public Wi-Fi is always a bad idea.

The best way to keep yourself safe is to use your own Wi-Fi connection, if you're able to set up a personal hotspot, or to ask employees (such as baristas in a coffee shop) which network is theirs. A free connection that pops up while you're on the go might just be too good to be true.
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