Australians take too many risks with public Wi-Fi

Alex Kidman 26 July 2017 NEWS

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66% of us act in an unsafe manner when using free Wi-Fi, including for online banking.

We live in an age where access to the Internet is nearly ubiquitous, or at least it's expected to be, whether we've got access to our own data or not. Public Wi-Fi is everywhere, from coffee shops to shopping centres to major tourist attractions and it can be pretty tempting to simply connect and save our own relatively expensive mobile data for later.

Still, there are risks associated with using public Wi-Fi, or indeed any Internet connection where you can't be certain of what data is being captured. In its latest Wi-Fi Risk report, Norton by Symantec has highlighted the risky behaviour that far too many Australians engage in. According to its results, some 66% of Australians act in an unsafe manner when using public Wi-Fi hotspots. This correlates with research previously undertaken by RMIT University and Di Marzio Research, which highlighted Australian attitudes to Wi-Fi safety, although Symantec's research suggests that we've actively become worse at measuring risk over time.

So why do we keep on using insecure public Wi-Fi for our most private activities?

According to Norton by Symantec's research, it boils down to many of us thinking that we're in a secure environment when we're very much at risk. Some 60% of respondents said that they feel safe while using public Wi-Fi, but only 51% of those respondents use a VPN to encrypt their communications when on such networks. A staggering 83% have used public Wi-Fi to check their personal email, share photos or check their online banking account, which is very risky, especially for online banking.

We're also trailing behind in awareness of public Wi-Fi safety, with the report stating that just 19% of Australians have any idea of how to identify whether an app is transmitting data securely or not, compared to 29% of Hong Kong residents and 51% of Indian citizens.

So what should you be doing when using public Wi-Fi? Consider the innate security of the websites that you visit, especially those that haven't enabled HTTPS encryption on their site. You can pick up on this by looking at the URL of the site. A standard HTTP header isn't secure at all.

For any kind of personal information, whether it's an intimate selfie or the security code on the back of your credit card, don't go anywhere near a public Wi-Fi hotspot without first using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) client to scramble your communications for anyone who might be hooking into the same hotspot or, for that matter, actively logging your activity. If you're unsure about getting a VPN, you can read our comprehensive guide to the best VPNs here.

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