Most Public Wi-Fi Hotspot Users Think Their Personal Info is Safe

UAE consumers are unable to resist a strong, free Wi-Fi network and their online actions may be placing their personal information at risk, according to Norton by Symantec’s 2017 Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report, released today. But the siren song of free data means many throw caution to the wind when it comes to their personal information, with 95 per cent of UAE consumers indicating they have acted in an unsafe matter when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots, including potentially sharing their email or online bank account log-in information.

“In today’s world, most consumers demand constant connectivity, but there is a deep divide between what people think is safe when it comes to using Wi-Fi hotspots versus the reality,” said Tamim Taufiq, Head of Norton Middle East. “What someone thinks is private on their personal device can easily be accessed by cybercriminals through unsecure or fake Wi-Fi Networks or even apps with privacy vulnerabilities.”

The Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report surveyed more than 15,000 consumers in 15 countries, including 1,000 consumers in the UAE, to learn about their public Wi-Fi practices and perceptions. Many of the global findings show that people are aware of the risks of connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots outside their home but are not necessarily changing their approach when accessing these networks. In fact, nearly everyone (95 per cent) is acting in a way that could put risk their personal and private information at risk.

Consumers Yearn for Quick, Free Data Connections
Two-thirds (66 per cent) of UAE consumers can’t wait more than a few minutes before logging onto a Wi-Fi network or asking for the password after arriving at a friend’s place, café, hotel or other locationNearly one-third have accessed Wi-Fi without the Wi-Fi network owner’s permission, and one in ten guessed or hacked the password to get in.

Even when Travelling, Access to Public Wi-Fi is a Must
Many UAE consumers indicate that access to a strong Wi-Fi network is a deciding factor when choosing:

  • a holiday rental or hotel (81 per cent)
  • a transportation hub (59 per cent)
  • a place to grab a bite to eat or drink (58 per cent)
  • or which airline to fly (57 per cent)

Further, half of people surveyed said the most important reason to stay connected so that someone important can contact them. Nearly four in 10 (39 per cent) say it’s important to use public Wi-Fi to avoid draining their data plan.

Yet Despite the Cavalier Attitude, Fear of Exposure is Very Real

  • 43 per cent reported they would be horrified if the details of their bank accounts and financial information were posted online.
  • One in five (22 per cent) reported they would be embarrassed if the details of their private chats/texts conversation or closest secrets were posted online.
  • Nearly half (46 per cent) reported they would even pay to prevent their personal information, such as browsing history, being exposed to their employer. Furthermore, 49 per cent would pay to avoid such information reaching their family.
  • 65 percent of the UAE consumers are willing to do or swap something for a strong, free Wi-Fi. One in ten consumers will allow permission to access and edit all social media accounts in exchange for free Wi-Fi.
  • Half of the respondents say it’s important to use public Wi-Fi in case someone important needs to get in touch with them. Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) say it’s important to use public Wi-Fi to avoid draining their data plan.

Risky Behaviour on Wi-Fi
In the case of using public Wi-Fi for more personal matters, joining an unsecure network could reveal more about a person’s information than they bargained for:

  • More than a quarter (27 per cent) have check their bank accounts or accessed financial information on public Wi-Fi, and 24 per cent have shared their credit card information.
  • Three in ten consumers have shared their travel plans or location information while using public Wi-Fi.
  • 72 per cent of the consumers used public Wi-Fi to log into social media networks while 61 per cent have logged into personal emails.
  • UAE consumers also conduct business over public Wi-Fi with 44 per cent stating that they’ve accessed their work email, and 31 per cent have also share work documents (including financials).

Help Ensure Your Personal Information Doesn’t Fall into the Wrong Hands
Despite the need for access to a strong, free Wi-Fi connection, there are simple steps consumers can take to help protect their information online:

  • Sharing Less is Best: Think twice before entering any type of personal information – from passwords, to financial details and photos – over public Wi-Fi networks. Even if you’re not actively sharing the information, your device may be doing so for you. Many devices are programmed to automatically seek connections to other devices on the same network, which could cause your files to be vulnerable. Be sure to disable sharing on your devices to ensure what’s yours stays yours.
  • Go in knowing the potential consequences: Only share or look at less sensitive information on public Wi-Fi. Catching up on the daily news on public Wi-Fi is fine. Paying your bills or entering any account information is not wise.  Avoid any websites that hold any of your sensitive information, like banking sites or transactional sites on which you store credit card information.
  • Check the Network: Whether it’s at a coffee shop or in the airport, make sure to verify the name of the network with staff or on signage before connecting. It’s pretty easy for someone who wants to intercept your data to set up a network called “Free Wi-Fi”, or any other variation that includes a nearby venue name, to make you think it’s a legitimate source
  • Do HTTPS: Many companies use secure websites — HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) — to provide online security. You can tell if a website is secure if it has “https” in its URL and has a small lock symbol next to it. However, even though the website itself might be safe, your personal information could still be vulnerable if your network connection isn’t secure.