Public Wi-Fi hotspots are easy pickings for identity thieves, and a new report suggests their work is made easier by consumer confusion about what makes a network secure.
Research from Experian Consumer Services found that half of British Wi-Fi users do not know if a network is secure or open when they connect to it. An unsecure Wi-Fi network increases the risk of identity theft when users connect via a Wi-Fi enabled device, usually smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Even more troubling is 58 percent of respondents’ mobile devices connect to a Wi-Fi spot automatically, which means users might not even know which network they are connected to at any given time. Only a third of the 1,641 survey respondents considered how secure a Wi-Fi network was before connecting.
Ignorance is the biggest problem. The survey revealed consumers are unsure about how to securely use Wi-Fi hotspots, with 96 percent of mobile users accessing Wi-Fi hotspots either not knowing or being unsure how to select the most secure settings on their mobile devices.
“Wi-Fi services and the vast choice of mobile devices are empowering us to live more of our online lives whilst on the go,” said Peter Turner, managing director of Experian Consumer Services UK&I. “Whilst this brings many advantages, we still need to be wary of any public unsecure Wi-Fi 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 blasé, we are all putting ourselves at risk of identity theft.”
Unsurprisingly, the urban setting of London neighborhoods are more susceptible to identify fraud, with the top spot going to East Ham, with about seven times more attempts than the national average. London as a whole experienced 11 attempts for every 10,000 adults, although East Ham saw 27 attempts for every 10,000 adults in 2012, Experian reported.
Outside of London, the city of Altrincham in Cheshire has more than three times the national average. Other hotspots for identity fraud include London commuter towns Hatfield, Dartford and Camberley
In a survey of Wi-Fi network security levels in London, 36 percent were completely unsecure, giving easy access to unsecured personal information for identity thieves.
Experian advises consumers to do online banking at home and turn off automatic connections to networks. They also recommend not using certain apps with Wi-Fi networks if the apps don’t encrypt data. Mobile users also should look for an SSL connection, indicated by the lock icon to the left of the site’s URL in the address bar or https:// in the URL when entering sensitive personal information on a website.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson