Symantec Norton wi-fi protectionTwo-out-of-three New Zealanders think their personal data is safe when they use public wi-fi hotspots. Roughly the same number use hotspots regardless of the consequences. Hardly any users know if they are transmitting data safely when using public wi-fi.

These are Key findings in Symantec’s 2017 Wi-fi Risk Survey.

Wi-fi is popular. Symantec found half of all New Zealanders ask for a wi-fi password when at locations such as a friends house, hotel or café. Almost a third ask for that password within minutes of arriving.

Wi-fi reality

Symantec territory manager Mark Gorrie says the attitudes are out of touch with reality. He says: “People often put their personal information at risk”. You don’t have to look far for examples. Gorrie says 84 percent of people will use public wi-fi to check their bank details online.

Gorrie says sites masquerading as legitimate hotspots often set up to lure users and collect private information. It’s not always known what they do with the information. Not every data collector has a criminal intent.

One of the strangest findings is that many users think they can tell if the apps they use are secure when transmitting data on wi-fi. Gorrie points out that even security experts have no way of knowing this. You need sophisticated tools to monitor traffic to check this.

Virtual private networks

Symantec’s angle on this is that the company sells virtual private network software that can make wi-fi more secure. I’ve been using it for the last year, including on a trip to China and have the latest version for testing at the moment. More about that later.

Gorrie says he recommends this for anyone who may use sensitive information over a wi-fi connection. He says users who don’t want to go that far should just be more careful about the information they share on public hotspots. He says you should make sure you don’t set your devices to auto-connect when they find an unknown hotspot.

It’s good advice. It is safer to use mobile internet on the cellular network when in risky places. It’s much harder for criminals to set up a fake cell tower than a fake wi-fi hotspot.

12 thoughts on “New Zealanders naïve about wi-fi safety: Symantec

    • Let me qualify that “never use public wi-fi”.

      I use the non-public wi-fi when I’m working in a company office so long as it looks secure. Ditto with services like Spark’s wi-fi hotspots so long as I get confirmation it IS a legitimate hotspot. The other service I use is in the Air New Zealand Koru lounge. Hotel wi-fi makes me nervous, some don’t look secure. But in every one of these cases I’m using a VPN.

  1. Why does it matter? 95% of website use HTTPS so even if the bank or email passwords are entered, they are encrypted.

    • They might not be able to snoop in the specific bank transaction, but if the wifi hotspot is insecure crooks can access other information. They also know which bank you connected to. That is an insecurity right there. Couple that with an ability to read you other messages and watch your other activity. This, on its own, can be enough. However, there are forms of attack that can look ile your legitimate bank site and even look like you’re connecting via HTTPS, look up sslstrip for an example. There are other ways a compromised honeypot Wifi hotspot can rob you.

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