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A new report suggests that although travelers are aware of the risk, they are not taking the steps required to protect their personal data and systems when accessing publicly available WiFi during travel.

The report, titled PhoCusWright Traveler Technology Survey 2013, estimates that nearly 90% of all public WiFi hotspots lack the necessary security to protect users, and the marked increase in the use of smartphones and tablets to access these public networks have increased the risk of data loss.

“In the age of tablets, smartphones and ubiquitous hotspots, many travelers don’t realize that they are unsuspectingly sharing sensitive information with others on public Wi-Fi,” said AnchorFree CEO David Gorodyansky.

“It’s troubling that while most travelers are concerned about online hacking, very few know how, or care enough, to protect themselves. Looming threats — from cyber thieves to malware and snoopers — are skyrocketing on public Wi-Fi and travelers need to be vigilant in protecting themselves,” Gorodyansky continued.

While 82% of the 2,200 U.S. travelers surveyed indicate that they fear their personal information is not safe when accessing public WiFi, nearly 84% still do not take precautions to protect themselves from compromise.

The top three concerns cited by respondents include:

  • The possibility of someone stealing personal information when engaging in banking or financial sites (51%)
  • Making online purchases that require a credit or debit card (51%)
  • Making purchases using an account that has payment information stored (45%)

“Consumers underestimate their exposure to risks when connecting to public Wi-Fi,” said identity theft expert Robert Siciliano.

“While credit card fraud is considered a traveler’s most significant risk, consumers should be aware that there are many levels to protecting personal data online – a compromised email account puts other accounts at risk, including credit cards, and provides hackers with a wealth of information they can use to steal your identity,” Siciliano said.

For a first-hand account of how vulnerable travelers are, check out the article Hacking Your Way Through Airports and Hotels, where founder Nabil Ouchn details the techniques he used to compromise travelers using public WiFi at an airport and how he was able to breach the network of a five-star hotel in less than one hour.