Consumers are unable to resist a strong, free Wi-Fi network, but their online behaviours may be placing their personal information and privacy at risk, according to Norton by Symantec’s (NASDAQ: SYMC) 2017 Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report, released today. But the siren song of free data means many throw caution to the wind when it comes to their digital secrets. Whether it’s the password to their bank account or their internet browsing habits, people will share – and do – almost anything on public Wi-Fi.
“There is a deep divide between what people think is safe or private when using public Wi-Fi versus the reality,” said Nick Shaw, vice president and general manager at Norton by Symantec. “What someone thinks is private on their personal device can easily be accessed by hackers through unsecure Wi-Fi networks or even apps with privacy vulnerabilities.”
The Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report surveyed more than 15,000 consumers in 15 countries to learn about their public Wi-Fi practices and perceptions. Many of the UK findings show that people are aware of the risks of public Wi-Fi, but are not necessarily changing their behaviours. In fact, nearly everyone (84 per cent) is acting in a way which could put risk their personal and private information at risk. UK market highlights include:
Consumers Yearn for Quick, Free Data Connections
Nearly half (42 per cent) of consumers can’t wait more than a few minutes before logging onto a Wi-Fi network or asking for the password after arriving at a friend’s place, café, hotel or other location. Two in five (19 per cent) have accessed Wi-Fi without the Wi-Fi network owner’s permission, and one in twenty (5 per cent) guessed or hacked the password to get in.
Even when Travelling, Access to Public Wi-Fi is a Must
Despite the recent E.U. legislation abolishing data roaming charges, more than half of Britons (58 per cent) indicate they intend to continue using public Wi-Fi, notably to avoid using up their monthly mobile data allowance (36 per cent). This is especially true while traveling, as Britons say access to a strong Wi-Fi network is a deciding factor when choosing:
- a holiday rental or hotel (55 per cent)
- a place to grab a bite to eat or drink (29 per cent)
- a transportation hub (27 per cent)
- or which airline to fly (20 per cent)
Further, nearly half (45 per cent) of people surveyed said the most important reason to stay connected is to use a GPS or map app to get around, and 35 per cent of Generation Z’ers want to ensure they can share their updates and photos on social media.
Risky and Surprising Behaviours on Public Wi-Fi
And in the case of using public Wi-Fi for more private matters, joining an unsecure network could reveal more about a person’s personal information (or habits) than they bargained for:
- One in twelve admit to using public Wi-Fi to watch adult content on public Wi-Fi, and of those they admit doing so at:
- A hotel, hostel or holiday rental (47 per cent)
- A café or restaurant (26 per cent)
- The airport (25 per cent)
- Work (24 per cent)
- A train or bus station (19 per cent)
- On the street (18 per cent)
- Library (18 per cent)
- Public toilets (17 per cent)
- While nearly everyone (84 per cent) potentially put personal information at risk when using public Wi-Fi, including checking their bank accounts or logging into their personal email accounts, four in five (81 per cent) of UK consumers don’t use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure their Wi-Fi connections, even though it is considered one of the best ways to protect your personal information.
Yet Despite the Cavalier Attitude, Fear of Exposure is Very Real
- Over half (52 per cent) reported they would be horrified if the details of their bank accounts and financial information were stolen by a hacker and posted publicly online
- 21 per cent reported they would be embarrassed if the details of their closest secrets or private chats/texts conversations (15 per cent) were posted online by a hacker
- Nearly one-third (30 per cent) reported they would even pay to prevent their personal information, such as browsing history, being exposed to their employer. Furthermore, 32 per cent would pay to avoid such information reaching their family.
Help Ensure Your Personal Information Doesn’t Fall into the Wrong Hands
There are simple steps consumers can take to help protect their information online:
- Use Security Software: One of the best ways to protect your information online is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) from a trusted vendor such as Symantec’s Norton Wi-Fi Privacy. VPNs provide a “secure tunnel” that encrypts data being sent and received between your device and the internet
- Look for HTTPS: Many companies use secure websites — HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) — to provide online security. You can tell if a website is secure if it has “https” in its URL and has a small lock symbol next to it. However, even though the website itself might be safe, your personal information could be vulnerable if your network connection isn’t secure
- Sharing Less is Best: Think twice before entering any type of personal information – from passwords, to financial details and photos – over public Wi-Fi networks. Even if you’re not actively sharing the information, your device may be doing so for you. Many devices are programmed to automatically seek connections to other devices on the same network, which could cause your files to be vulnerable. Be sure to disable sharing on your devices to ensure what’s yours stays yours