Two Thirds Can’t Tell If Public Wi-Fi Is Secure Or Not

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Symantec report says people are aware of the dangers of public Wi-Fi but can’t gauge security. And some take the risk anyway

Wi-Fi users are aware of the dangers of sharing personal information across public networks, but many place far more faith in the security of hotspots than they should – putting their credentials at risk.

Research from Symantec found two thirds of respondents can’t tell the difference between secure and insecure Wi-Fi networks despite four fifths aware of the dangers.

They just assume at hotspots in places like cafés, airports and hotels will have security built in, when this is far from the case. Indeed, as many as a quarter of the UK’s most popular Android applications transmit data over an unencrypted connection.

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Unsecured Wi-Fi

Wi-FiThis exposes users to man-in-the-middle attacks by cybercriminals who can pass on login details and banking information and sell it on.

Attackers can also hide on seemingly legitimate, unsecured networks called ‘Starbucks Wi-Fi’, or issue fake login pages that harvest user information. A malicious player could also hijack a session cookie used to authenticate a user, giving them access to your account.

But even despite this awareness (three quarters fear having their passwords sold more than having intimidate pictures of themselves shared online), 78 percent admitted to sharing sensitive information over a public Wi-Fi network and more than a half have logged in on unsecured networks.

Convenience over security

Astonishingly, one fifth have accessed online banking services on an unsecured network, leading experts to claim people are putting convenience over security when it comes to public Wi-Fi.

“We know many consumers believe that using a password to access public Wi-Fi means their information is safe, but that’s not necessarily the case,” said Nick Shaw, general manager of Symantec’s Norton antivirus product, who suggests a Virtual Private Network, such as its own, can help protect people on unsecured networks.

Wi-Fi aggregator iPass estimates there are more than 104 million hotspots around the world and expects this will rise to 340 million by 2018. In the UK, alone it says there are 5.6 million, and believes this will increase to 14 million during the same timeframe.

A separate report from Juniper suggests this figure will be boosted by ‘homespots’ – home routers that also act as public hotspots. BT Wi-Fi uses this model, while Virgin Media also has plans to do the same. By 2020, the research firm predicts one in three home routers will be a public hotspot.

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