Research shows growing concern over public WiFi security
The British public are quickly becoming more aware of the dangers of using public WiFi, research by F-Secure has found. The new study has revealed that 39 percent of the people said that they worry about the security of public WiFi, an increase of 9 percent in less than a year.
The research was conducted in July in conjunction with F-Secure’s Politician Hack experiment, aimed at highlighting the insecurities of the open network. Adoption of the technology has increased over the past few years, with over 8.5 million hotspots (that consist of commercial and community hotspots) in the UK, with one WiFi hotspot for every 11 users.
The problem with publicly available WiFi is that it is a big open network that anyone on or near the area of the network can easily “snoop” on. In fact, public WiFi was not designed for 21st century usage, due to the inherent insecurity of the system, meaning that it is relatively simple to identify potential targets through their internet traffic, capturing usernames and passwords of individual’s social media, email accounts and bank details for exploitational purposes. In the case of the Politician Hack, researchers were able to spy on and penetrate the communication devices of three British politicians that logged on to a rogue WiFi hotspot set up in a hotel, a café and office space in central London.
At that time, the experiment demonstrated the ease with which anyone could be hacked through the use of very simple hacking tools that are readily available for download on the internet. A robust security solution for public WiFi is the use of a VPN (virtual private network), as it encrypts all of the individual’s traffic making browsing completely anonymous on an open network. However, there seems to be disparity between knowledge and action, as many people are putting themselves at risk by using public WiFi with no VPN. Research found that over a half (58 percent) of the respondents have used public WiFi previously, but only seven per cent actually installed a VPN on their devices.
Data further reveals that 56 per cent of the respondents said that internet security is important to them when using public WiFi. However, this fails to carry over into practical results: Only 40 per cent of the respondents have installed internet security on their mobile devices. And just over three-quarters (76 percent) said they do not know enough about internet security to keep their personal information safe on public WiFi.
“The results paint a clear picture of the insecurities of public WiFi usage,” said Allen Scott, managing director at F-Secure UK & Ireland.
“People are becoming more aware of the security risks, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into them actively protecting themselves. Others simply don’t know how they are opening themselves to attack.”
Scott further notes six areas that the public need to take into consideration when logging-on open WiFi connections:
- Use a VPN when using public WiFi.
- If you don’t have a VPN running, assume anything you do over public WiFi is part of a public conversation.
- Don’t let your device connect to public WiFi hotspots automatically and delete existing public WiFi access points when you get home.
- Use unique and complex passwords for all of your most important accounts.
- Be careful clicking on web-links. Better to browse the web address by typing into the search engine of your browser. Check to make sure it’s a safe connection (you’re looking for a padlock and ‘https’ in the browser address bar), which means secured and that you’re on the domain you are meant to be on.
- Switch off your public WiFi connection when your device is not in use. This will stop it trying to connect with hotspots in the vicinity.
F-Secure’s VPN app Freedome is one-click protection against tracking that keeps users anonymous and private online. It encrypts all internet traffic and prevents individual users from going to any harmful sites containing malware or phishing. With Freedome’s personal VPN app, individual users are protected against snooping and hacking over the pubic WiFi.