Brits unaware of WiFi hotspots security risk

UK travellers are exposing themselves to the risk of identity theft when using open WiFi networks, according to new research.

The research by Experian Consumer Services is based on a consumer survey of 1,641 adults in the UK, and highlights the dangers of revealing personal information online when using unsecured WiFi hotspots.

According to the research, nearly half of all Britons using public WiFi hotspots have no idea whether the WiFi network is secure or open when they connect to it via their smart-phones, tablets or laptops. Over 30 percent said that they check the security of a WiFi network before connecting, while 50 percent of the respondents said that they do not understand whether a WiFi network is secure or open when they connect to it.

Adding to the vulnerability, over 58 percent of respondents’ mobile devices connect automatically to available WiFi networks, increasing their risk of identity theft.

In addition to the survey, a live test was conducted at six central London locations to assess WiFi network security levels. Across the six locations, 36 percent or a total of 322 WiFi Hotspots were totally insecure, giving ‘open’ accesses to possible online identity fraudsters looking to misuse unsecured personal information.

Peter Turner, managing director of Experian Consumer Services UK&I, said: ‘WiFi services and the vast choice of mobile devices are empowering us to live more of our online lives whilst on the go. Whilst this brings many advantages, we still need to be wary of any public unsecure WiFi hotspots. Think of them like you would a public phone call. You would not openly discuss something personal or private if you thought people were listening, so don’t say it with your laptop, tablet or smartphone. By being blase, we are all putting ourselves at risk of identity theft.’

The Experian WiFi Hotspots survey also found that most consumers do not know how to securely use WiFi hotspots, with 96 percent of mobile users accessing them without selecting the most secure settings on their mobile devices. Over a third of consumers, or 35 percent, said that they would not connect to WiFi hotspots due to trust concerns.

However, with the new web monitoring services, consumers can instantly be alerted to any fraudulent use of their personal information online, enabling them to identify and stop any suspicious activity. Experian also advises Brits to carry out online banking at home, turn off automatic connection to networks and not to use any apps if they are unsure whether they encrypt data.