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8/1/2019

Have you ever been in a public place and hopped onto a public WiFi network?

We conducted a survey of 1,195 US residents over the past two weeks asking about internet connectivity and one interesting trend stood out.

82% of respondents (980 total) said they connect to any freely available network while out in public. When asked about the security implications of such a decision, the majority of the respondents said they didn't think about such things, and that it wasn't a concern for them.

 

Do you connect to any open WiFi network while out in public places?

 

Yes82%
No13%
Don't Know5%

 

How concerned about security are you when you join a public WiFi network?

 

Not Concerned At All71%
A Little Concerned16%
Very Concerned9%
Don't Know4%

 

While most public WiFi isn't inherently dangerous, there are plenty of opportunities for security breaches.

Man-in-the-middle attacks, malware distribution, snooping, and potentially unencrypted networks are a handful of security threats that might cause harm.

But most scary in reference to the 82% of people who say they connect to virtually any free WiFi network are malicious hotspots. It's fairly easy for someone with ill intentions to set up access to a WiFi network and use it to access private information on your computer.

Let's say you're sitting at a coffee shop, and a WiFi network pops up that uses the coffee shop name. Seems safe enough, right? But because anyone can name a hotspot or WiFi access point anything they want, it's not difficult for someone with malicious intent to name their network something that seems safe and then use it to steal your personal data.

A selection of commentary from the survey:

“I guess I'm willing to risk it in order to get internet access.”

“I had no idea public WiFi could even be dangerous.”

“I make sure to not do anything too private when I'm on public internet. It doesn't seem like something I need to be worried about.”

“Never, I have unlimited data so unless I'm somewhere remote, I don't touch public networks.”

“Who cares. All our data is out there floating around anyways.”

Methodology

We use a partner survey company to collect responses for all of our polls. The poll asked 1,195 US residents questions to self-report about how they utilize public WiFi access. The poll was conducted online, was anonymous and collected no personally identifiable information. (+/- 3%).

If you simply can't resist the allure of free WiFi, though, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself:

Avoid giving away too much personal information

Unless absolutely necessary, any WiFi network that starts asking for a lot of personal information to access should be used cautiously. A lot of WiFi networks now require things like email addresses or phone numbers, while many of these requests are likely for marketing purposes, make sure you trust the network before giving away this data.

Make sure the sites you're visiting are HTTPS

If you're accessing any websites that require you enter personal information, we highly recommend you only use sites that utilize HTTPS. Almost any information you send between your browser and the website's servers will remain encrypted.

Use a VPN for extra security

While choosing a reliable and safe VPN is in and of itself takes a bit of homework, the security benefits can be worth the extra research. Utilizing a VPN, or virtual private network client, while using public WiFi is the best way to make sure all your data stays safe.

Sean Porter is a data scientist interested in a great story. He lives with his wife and three (yes three) dogs. On the weekend you can find him in the mountains, either skiing or climbing.