A new study commissioned by NordVPN has found that half of all Brits are most worried about falling victim to a cyberattack when they are visiting the pub, a café, or a restaurant.
Using public Wi-Fi in hospitality venues is the biggest fear for British mobile internet users, with networks provided on public transport, like trains and buses, and in shopping centres following closely behind.
The study was carried out on behalf of NordVPN by Cint, who asked more than 1,000 people aged 18 years and older a series of questions.
Responders were located in a variety of countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia,
Germany, Poland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden and Spain.
What NordVPN’s new survey tells us about Brits’ awareness of Public Wi-Fi networks
More than half of UK respondents (52%) believe that weak public Wi-Fi in hospitality venues is when cyber-criminals are most likely to strike, with weak security on the public Wi-Fi networks they are using largely seen as the problem.
Only fractionally less had the same concerns about free internet connections on public transport (51%), while similar concerns about Wi-Fi networks in shops and shopping centres were also raised by half of those who responded to the survey (exactly 50%).
Such awareness of the shortcomings of public Wi-Fi systems is actually quite positive since the numbers have not always been this high. And the areas of concern do not stop here.
More than a third of respondents (37%) said they had concerns about using public Wi-Fi networks in airports while waiting to go on holiday or pick up loved ones from their flights.
A noticeably lower amount (20%) raised concerns that they were likely to be the victim of cybersecurity attacks in their workplace.
Although, obviously, cyber-security provisions do vary from one employer to another, businesses are just as likely to be the victim of phishing campaigns and other cyber-attacks as private individuals, if not more so since the rewards are higher, so this figure is a little bit concerning.
Despite the growing number of people in the UK who are concerned about the security risk of using public Wi-Fi networks, it seems that all too often, we Brits are still willing to throw caution to the wind.
Of the ten countries surveyed by NordVPN, the UK has the second-highest proportion of people willing to use insecure public Wi-Fi networks. Two in five of us (41%) are happy to use public Wi-Fi networks where no password is required to log on.
What are Brits doing to keep themselves safe on Public Wi-Fi networks?
Using Public Wi-Fi networks doesn’t have to be risky as long as you take the right precautions to ensure that your connection is secure yourself.
So, the next question that was put to responders in this survey was what steps people were taking to protect themselves from cybersecurity threats in public places.
It found that nearly half (47%) of those responding said all they did was avoid entering or accessing sensitive information when they were connected to public Wi-Fi. That’s not a bad thing to do, although it is not exactly a foolproof defence mechanism.
When it comes to only accessing websites encrypted using the HTTPS protocol, the number dropped to just over a third (37%).
As regular readers will know, the best thing to use to keep safe on Public Wi-Fi networks is a VPN.
But the number of Brits using this tool was slightly less than a quarter (23%). When you include other cybersecurity and privacy tools, the number jumps slightly to just under a third (32%).
This is particularly worrying since, of all the ways to stay safe on public Wi-Fi, a VPN is the most solid and reliable option around.
How to stay safe on Public Wi-Fi networks
In announcing the findings of this survey, NordVPN has made a series of eminently sensible suggestions as to what Brits should be doing to keep themselves and their data safe and secure when using public Wi-Fi networks.
These include using a reliable anti-virus software that will alert them to and keep them safe from any malware, spyware, or other viruses that might be lurking out there and enabling a firewall which will monitor network traffic and block any suspicious connections that might try to latch onto their device.
However, the key recommendation is to use a VPN.
When you are connected to a VPN, all of your internet data is encrypted, and this means that no matter what a cyber attacker is doing on the public Wi-Fi network, you can be confident that your device and your private information will always be secure.
Announcing the findings of the survey, NordVPN Chief Technical Officer Marijus Briedis said, “Convenience coupled with our love of using devices on the go means public Wi-Fi connections have flourished, yet Brits are right to be cautious about using them.”
“Hackers are opportunists at heart, so it’s understandable that some of the busiest venues like pubs and restaurants are those where people feel most nervous of logging on.”
“The scope of threats varies from place to place, but modern methods of hacking mean that even at work or in the security of our own home, we can still be at risk.”
“Cyber awareness is important, and it’s good to see people erring on the side of safety when using public connections, whether it’s avoiding accessing sensitive information or clicking on pop-up ads. However, criminals still thrive on human errors, so technological solutions are a key backup that helps to minimise risks.”
He is absolutely right. We are encouraged to see awareness of the risks of public Wi-Fi networks creeping up, although the fact that only half of Brits are aware of even the most vulnerable of public Wi-Fi networks is still not really enough.
But it is also vital that people learn quickly about how to stay safe on these insecure networks as well. Anti-virus software and a firewall are important steps and ones that we fully endorse.
However, it is the use of a secure premium VPN that is the crucial step and will go a long way to allowing everyone to use even the most insecure public Wi-Fi network with confidence.