There’s been a lot of talk about the dangers of public Wi-Fi lately. From a recent Digital Trends article outlining these dangers, to last week’s report of AT&T using an airport hotspot to serve ads, to Skycure’s recent study on unsecured connections at top tourist attractions worldwide, it’s hard to ignore the issue.
And it’s not just buzz – the dangers are real. Public Wi-Fi networks are often “open,” or not secure, meaning your communications are not being encrypted. These hotspots are an easy target for hackers trying to steal your login passwords, credit card information or other personal details.
What’s even more concerning is peoples’ willingness to use these networks, despite being aware of the risks. A recent poll by McAfee revealed that a large percentage of people still opt to use free Wi-Fi: “According to Intel, 38 percent of the 2,000 people they asked were happy to use unsecured Wi-Fi.” Combine that with a statistic from the AARP’s Convenience Versus Security report that “A quarter of the adults who use the Internet access it via public Wi-Fi once a week or more,” and you get an idea of how common using unsecured networks is.
A recent study by Skycure examined the security of Wi-Fi hotspots at tourist attractions around the world. They reveal that the riskiest travel attractions to use your mobile device include top spots like Times Square, Notre Dame, Disneyland Paris and Golden Gate Park. Meaning the information of the millions of people connecting daily through these networks may be at risk.
And it’s not just hackers on unsecured networks to worry about. As illustrated by the AT&T example above, ISPs can also create vulnerabilities. By injecting ads onto the pages over the airport hotspot, AT&T not only impacted user experience and speed but also introduced additional security threats.
Public Wi-Fi can be convenient, and even necessary at times – so what can you do to reduce the risk?
The first step is awareness. It’s essential to realize that when you’re logging on to a Wi-Fi network in a public place, especially one labeled “free,” you’re at risk. It’s also important to understand what you’re agreeing to. When you accept the terms and conditions of a public Wi-Fi hotspot, it’s likely you’re giving the service permission to collect information about you or what you’re looking at.
The most important thing you can do is to use a VPN every time you connect. A VPN encrypts your Internet connection, protecting your browsing activity, personal communications and data from any hackers or third-party snoops – wherever you log on.
See the full list of riskiest travel attractions for using your mobile device.