This is why using public wifi could be more risky than you think

Monday, 5th August 2019, 10:20 am
Updated Monday, 5th August 2019, 2:15 pm
Fewer than one in 10 people are ‘very confident’ they know how to stay safe while using public hotspots (Photo: Shutterstock)

Most of us connect to public wifi hotspots without a second thought, but perhaps you should think twice next time.

New research has highlighted the fact that almost 80 percent of public wifi users take a great risk when picking hotspots. They are more likely to pick the one with the highest signal strength, the most feasible name or that seems to be free to use.

A significant 86 per cent of daily public wifi users are more likely to choose convenience over safety.

How hackers use wifi hotspots to steal your details

Cyber security agency BullGuard revealed that four out of 10 users look for a name that matches where they are, such as ‘Coffee Shop Wi-Fi’ - but hackers could be using innocently named hotspots like this to attempt to steal your personal data.

Users are not checking if the hotspot is safe before using sites and apps that use very personal and private data. Over a third of users are accessing websites that need a password, 22 percent use their credit cards and 31 percent log into their online banking profiles. This is information which hackers would love to get their hands on.

Always ensure that in the web address bar it says HTTPS instead of HTTP (Photo: Shutterstock)

Even though people are eager to get online, fewer than one in 10 people are ‘very confident’ they know how to stay safe while using public hotspots. In fact, 62 per cent of people are concerned that they will get hacked and their information will be stolen. They are particularly worried about their banking information (68 per cent), passwords (56 per cent) and email content (27 per cent).

Paul Lipman, CEO at BullGuard said, “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,

“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.”

Antivirus software won’t protect your data

The BullGuard survey also concluded that over 60 percent of people who use public hotspots have their device set so that they automatically connect to familiar hotspots or the one with the strongest signal.

“If your device is set up this way, and if you're not paying attention when you first choose a hotspot, even once, and you accidentally choose something malicious, your device will automatically select it every time its within range,” Lipman added.

Though people think they are protected, unfortunate results highlight that consumers are not sure how to be safe when they use these hotspots, with nearly half believing antivirus software will protect their data from interception.

“Although essential for detecting and removing malware from your device, antivirus offers no protection at all from having your data intercepted by a malicious hotspot,” said Lipman.

How to stay safe

An effective way to keep data safe is to download a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which will keep you safe while using public WiFi. It creates a secure connection tunnel between your device and the websites and services you are using.

However, the study revealed that 60 per cent of the public surveyed don’t use a VPN, with 57 per cent of them saying they believe it to be too complicated or that they are unsure of how it works or how to use it.

Things to look out for while using public hotspots

Terms of service - Most genuine public networks will ask the user to agree to the terms and conditions of accessing the wifi, if you immediately connect you could be using an unsafe connection.

Beware of ‘free’ - Usually a hacker will add the word free at the end of a hotspot name to entice users. For example if you see two of the exact same names come up but one is free, the free one is likely to be the malicious one however if you are unsure ask an employee.

86% of daily public wifi users are more likely to choose convenience over safety (Photo: Shutterstock)

Wrong passwords - To check a hotspot, type an incorrect password to get into a protected hotspot if it doesn’t come up with an error message you are likely to be in a fake hotspot.

Slow network connections - If you are in a hotspot and the WiFi is unusually slow then its possible that a hacker is using their mobile internet to connect you to the sites you are using on their fake hotspot.

Secure website - Always ensure that in the web address bar it says HTTPS instead of HTTP as if it says the first one the connection may be unsafe and check for a padlock, this means that the data is encrypted.

What to do if you think you have connected to a fake hotspot

Disconnect as quickly as possibleClear you saved passwords and connectionsClear your browser cacheRun your antivirusChange the passwords to any site you usedCall your bank and cancel any cards you used while on the connection