Showrooming this shopping season? Protect yourself with a VPN.

Deborah Salmi 24 Nov 2016

This shopping season protect yourself with a VPN when using public Wi-Fi hotspots.

During Black Friday and the weeks leading up to Christmas, tech-savvy shoppers visit brick-and-mortar stores to see the items they want to buy, but use mobile price comparison apps to find the best deal. Aka “showrooming.” Shopping apps do things like scan barcodes for price comparisons between your local retailer and online stores, send alerts when the price drops, find money-saving coupons, and even tell which stores in the mall have a particular item on sale.  

These tools are great, and holiday shoppers save money and time when they use them. But it’s not the apps that this post is about (you can find those by searching for price comparison apps) – it’s how you connect to the internet when you’re away from home that has us security experts concerned.

Many stores and shopping malls, as well as fast food restaurants and cafes, offer free Wi-Fi hotspots. The shopping public can conveniently use these open networks.

But how do you know if the network is secured? 

A good rule of thumb: if you can get online without entering a password or network key, then the network is unsecured. Anyone within range can use the hotspot, including cybercriminals who scan the online traffic for valuable information like credit card numbers, user names and passwords, and online banking information.

Cybercrooks even set up unsecured hotspots to lure you into sending your personal information over their network so they can steal it. In an experiment last year, our Avast researchers created fake Wi-Fi networks and called them familiar names like Xfinity, Google Starbucks, and Starbucks. Starbucks is one of the most widespread networks, so it's pretty easy to get people's devices to connect to it. Within seven hours, 264 people connected to the fake Wi-Fi networks and generated 512,000 data packets.

How do I protect myself when I use free Wi-Fi?

To avoid the potential of a hacker stealing your private information, you basically have two choices: Stop using unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots or make sure you always have a secure connection by using a VPN (virtual private network) app, like Avast SecureLine VPN.

A VPN may sound pretty technical, and under the hood it is. But don't let the acronym intimidate you – it’s easy for even us regular people to use.

Avast mobile security developers created SecureLine to give you a secure and reliable private connection for your data between computer networks over the internet and keep cybercrooks from spying on you. Your outgoing and incoming data is encrypted as it travels in its own private “tunnel” and is decrypted at the other end. So you can showroom all you want while making sure your data stays private and protected.

Avast SecureLine VPN for Android, available on Google Play, and in the Apple App Store for iOS devices, encrypts connections on unsecured public Wi-Fi and allows you to browse anonymously. 

More tips for safe shopping

Keep yourself protected this season and all year long by following tips from the security experts here at Avast. Check out Tips to stay safe while shopping online this holiday season.

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