These days, a reliable internet connection is central to how we do business, stay in touch with friends, pay bills, shop and countless other daily activities. With that in mind, it’s no wonder everything from restaurants and coffee shops to retail stores and hotels make free Wi-Fi connections available to their customers. With the constant demand for connectivity, you can pop open your laptop just about anywhere and find a free connection.
That being said, as convenient as public Wi-Fi hotspots may be, they are far from secure. Unlike the private network you may have set up at home, public networks can be accessed by anyone. Identity thieves and cybercriminals sometimes take advantage of this lack of regulation, stealing information from computers on the network, such as passwords, financial data or any other sensitive information a person may access while connected to the network. Armed with this information, they can turn a hotel visitor or coffee shop patron into an identity theft victim without them ever knowing.
While this threat is serious, it is not a secret. However, despite knowing that public internet connections are not secure, consumers continue to choose convenience over security, disclosing personal information over unsecured connections on a regular basis, according to a new survey from web security company SecureAuth. The survey found that 44 percent of Americans have shared their home address over public Wi-Fi, and nearly one-third have shared their credit card number. More than 15 percent say they had shared their account passwords, social security number and driver’s license numbers as well.
These results underscore the overall finding that many Americans tend to value convenience more than security. 43 percent of survey respondents said that, if given the choice, they would rather improve their internet speeds than the security of their connection. When looking at younger internet users, that figure jumps into the majority, with 54 percent of millennials saying they’d choose speed over peace of mind.
“The next time users consider sharing personally identifiable information on public Wi-Fi, they might want to think twice and consider the risks they are taking,” Craig Lund, CEO of SecureAuth, told eWEEK. “Avoid use of public Wi-Fi wherever possible and, when using public Wi-Fi, avoid sharing sensitive data.”
Protecting your identity over public Wi-Fi
To make your browsing session more secure, the Federal Trade Commission offers the following best practices:
- Log out after using each account.
- Don’t recycle passwords. If you do, a password compromised over public Wi-Fi could be used to unlock multiple accounts.
- Keep your browser and security software up to date so they can detect potentially dangerous sites.
- Use a Virtual Private Network to secure your browsing session. A VPN encrypts traffic between your computer and the network, adding a layer of protection a public network is unable to provide.
- Only access encrypted websites when using hotspots. Even if you believe you are on a secure website, make sure every page is encrypted before sharing any information via the site.
- Don't access any sensitive information while on public Wi-Fi. If you don’t need to take action right away, it’s best to wait until you have access to a more secure network.
While these tips may help you avoid a harmful malware attack on public Wi-Fi, they can’t completely safeguard the information accessed through your computer. For an added layer of identity theft protection, sign up for Identity Guard. Our service not only helps protect your identity through the monitoring of credit files, Social Security Number, public records and more, but plans also include anti-virus protection and encryption software. To learn more about how we can help you better protect your identity, contact us today.