Should you trust public WiFi just because you trust the location?


This past May, Wombat Security surveyed 2000 adults in the U.S. and the U.K. regarding cybersecurity best practices.  While all the responses were interesting, some of them, particularly those related to how much most of us know about public WiFi security, were downright scary.

Identity theft and social media hacks

The survey found a huge disparity between U.S. and U.K. respondents in terms of how many had been victims of identity theft. Only 19% of U.K. users had been, but an astounding 50% of U.S. respondents have been victims of identity theft.

When asked if they or anyone they knew had had their social media accounts hacked, 41% of those in the U.K. responded affirmatively, while nearly two-thirds (63%) of those in the U.S. said they had been or knew someone who had been hacked on social media.

Ever used a VPN?

One of the positive trends detailed in the survey is that most respondents have either used a VPN at the job, or at least know what a VPN is and what it does.

Indeed, 44% of those in the U.K. and 65% of those in the U.S. indicated that they have used a VPN for their job. However, 33% of respondents in the U.K. said that they did not know what a VPN is and what it did (compared with only 19% of U.S. users).

More good news: 66% of U.S. users and 43% of U.K. users said they use their VPN “frequently” including at home and while traveling.

While there is work to be done in educating users about VPNs, the good news is that most people are at least aware of them, if not already using them.

Is it okay to use public WiFi at a trusted location?

Perhaps the most shocking part of the survey was how both U.S. and U.K. users responded to the following question: “If you are in a place you trust – like a nice hotel, local coffee shop, or international airport – can you trust the location’s free WiFi service to keep your information secure?

A whopping 54% of U.S. respondents said it did (more than double for U.K. respondents). So more than half of those in the U.S. thought that public WiFi was safe – as long as you trusted the location.

It’s no wonder that so many of us in the U.S. have been victims of identity theft. Just to reiterate (in case you are one of those people who believe this): public WiFi is completely unsecured, and anyone with the right device can eavesdrop on anything you do on these networks, unless you use a VPN of course.

Use a VPN like Private WiFi to protect yourself

This enlightening survey from Wombat Security shows a complicated picture of where we stand in 2017 regarding cybersecurity awareness: while many of us know about VPNs and even use them regularly, far too many of us are blissfully unaware of the dangers of public WiFi.

It’s a good reminder that only a VPN like Private WiFi fully protects you if you’re going to use public WiFi, even if it’s at your favorite coffee house or watering hole.

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.