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Here come the free WiFi Pirates of the Adriatic

The Adriatic coast alongside Croatia has captivated visitors for centuries with its brilliant water, pebble beaches, marble cities, and warm sun. But in recent years, visitors’ perspectives and desires have changed dramatically. Instead of looking up at the horizon, modern visitors are looking down – at their smartphones. When they are not making selfies, they are on the hunt for something else – free WiFi.

Anything that gives them free and unguarded bandwidth so they can chat with friends and send pictures back and forth. And yes, WiFi preferably without any password requirement. If you find a group of people, huddled together in a historic city center while peering at their smartphones, they aren’t recording the architecture. They’ve found a WiFi hotspot and are busy with Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook.

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Morning in Rovinj with no pirates and limited Free WiFi

According to a recent, highly informal survey of two teenagers in my house, they found around ten open WiFi connections during their one week in Croatia. Out of this cluster, five had the word “free” in the network name. And, only two of them really worked. And yes, both teenagers had zero understanding of why being a WiFi pirate might not be such a good thing.

So here are five reasons why for free WiFi pirates jumping on any WiFi ship that sails by might be problematic

You are highly exposed

When jumping onto an open WiFi network, you and whatever you send across the network are exposed. These types of networks are vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle attacks where a hacker sitting nearby can sniff out the communication and take a look at those messages – and your embarrassing vacation pictures.

Is it really free?

Everyone likes free stuff – especially bandwidth when the data plan for your smartphone limits your ability to send vacation pictures back home. But look out for a catch. If you have to give a site your email address for free WiFi access, use a throwaway email account to reduce your chances of getting spammed.

Just what did you agree to?

Free sites often have some terms and conditions. While most people skim through them (at best) in their native language, doing this in a hurry, in a foreign language, might be risky. While you are probably not signing off the eternal rights to your first-born child, think twice about what you might be agreeing to.

Password does not equal security

A password to the WiFi network at the hotel or café does not equal security. It just means that there is a slightly smaller pool of people who can jump on and off the network. It does nothing automatically to secure the privacy of your communication or to encrypt it. Watch out, free WiFi pirates!

Keep it to yourself

People wear clothes when they are out and about – including most beaches. Sometimes people don’t cover up – and you really wished they would. Think about using a VPN such as the Avira Phantom to keep your online activities covered in a secure and encrypted package – just like registered mail or a very large towel. After all, the choice to cover up should be yours.

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As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.