avast securelineIf you’ve ever been in an airport or cafe, you’ve probably been tempted to use their free Wi-Fi connections. After all, that’s what it’s there for. This is dangerous without a shield, experts say; it’s a perfect situation for identity theft.

In fact, in a large scale study of 340,000 U.S. smartphone users, nearly half use free Wi-Fi connections at least once a month, 40 percent of them use the free access on a daily or weekly basis. About a third used it for online banking or shopping – which requires entering their credit card number. Uh oh.

The study was conducted by Avast software, a Czech company well known for their free anti-virus software; we used it for years. They just came out with a shield called “SecureLine.” It’s $20 for a year’s subscription for iPhone or Android, or you can just use it when you need it for $2.59 a month. It encrypts your data, making it invisible to hackers and snoopers. The first seven days are free and we found it a snap to use.

We focused on Avast simply because we have used them before and been well satisfied, and after all, they did the study. But several software companies make this kind of protective software, which in the trade is known as “Virtual Private Networks.” So you’re on a public access service – where anyone can tune in – but you can make it private.

Here’s a sampling of other privacy providers: Norton HotSpot Privacy sells for $50; VPN Direct is an app for iPhone, starting at 99 cents for one month; Private Internet Access is $40 a year.

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