Two-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.
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.