Free Wi-Fi could be putting you at risk of identity theft

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UK consumers are putting their security at risk by signing up to insecure free public Wi-Fi networks, researchers have warned.

A report from BullGuard found that nearly four-fifths (79 percent) of public Wi-Fi users take significant risks when choosing a hotspot to connect to, often failing to check that the network they're connecting to is legitimate.

Overall, 86 percent of daily public Wi-Fi users putting convenience ahead of safety when choosing hotspots, with nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of people connecting to public Wi-Fi daily have their devices set up to 'automatically connect to the strongest Wi-Fi signal', or to ‘automatically connect to Wi-Fi hotspots they've used before.’ 


BullGuard's survey of 2,000 Brits found that instead of taking the time to check that a hotspot is legitimate, users often just pick a conenction based on Wi-fi- strength, a name that seems appropriate, or just picking any free option. 

However hackers often look to target victims with setting up real-sounding networks to try and fool people into choosing a malicious hotspot with the intention of stealing personal data. 

And many respondents were accessing Wi-Fi hotspots using very confidential data. More than a third of daily public Wi-Fi users log into personal accounts requiring a password, 22 percent use credit cards, and 31 percents log into online banking on potentially risky connections.

“Brits are choosing convenience over safety, when using public Wi-Fi. The findings show that respondents do not feel safe online, yet they are ignoring their fears and are using hotspots without checking they are safe,” said Paul Lipman, CEO at BullGuard. 

“Hackers can easily set up malicious hotspots which appear to be legitimate and yet can intercept and record people’s personal data, allowing them to steal usernames, passwords, credit card details, bank account information and more.” 

Using a VPN would help protect many of these users by making their browsing habits protected, but the survey found 60 percent of users don’t use a VPN, with 57 percent of those respondents saying they think it’s too complicated or that they don’t know how to use one. 

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.