More than a third of London’s free WiFi hotspots have no way to stop criminals accessing your personal data while you use the internet.
Credit record overlords Experian checked around 900 WiFi hotspots around central London and found 322 that were completely unsecured.
These hotspots could be used by fraudsters to access users’ traffic while they check email, surf the web or conduct online banking.
Experian’s Peter Turner said: “WiFi services and the vast choice of mobile devices are empowering us to live more of our online lives whilst on the go. Whilst this brings many advantages, we still need to be wary of any public unsecure WiFi hotspots.
“Think of them like you would a public phone call. You would not openly discuss something personal or private if you thought people were listening, so don’t say it with your laptop, tablet or smartphone. By being blasé, we are all putting ourselves at risk of identity theft.”
Experian is one of the major credit reference agencies which tell companies whether you have a good financial history for anything from a mortgage to a broadband contract.
It also scans criminal forums online where personal information is traded by fraudsters, and claims it’s on the increase – with 35 million pieces of data traded in 2012.
A survey of WiFi users found that more than half of us don’t know how to check if a WiFi hotspot is secure or open to criminals.
As well as saving sensitive activity such online banking for reliable networks such as your home or work connection, Experian advises:
- Turn off automatic connection to favourite or preferred networks because a hacker could easily imitate a common network name.
- Check with the venue’s employees to confirm the name of their network.
- Look for the lock icon to the left of the site’s URL in the address bar, or check the URL for ‘https://’ to see if the site uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to encrypt your traffic.
- Don’t use any apps over WiFi if you don’t know whether they encrypt data, because you may be sharing personal information or logon details over WiFi that are not encrypted.
- Consider getting a personal Virtual Private Network (VPN). Using a VPN provider can offer a way to protect your data as it travels over open WiFi connections.
Major WiFi providers such as The Cloud, O2 and BT Wifi provide require users to log in via a secure channel before they can surf, and even provide apps to manage the connection.
WiFi hotspots which don’t require users to register and log in may be quick and simple, but there’s no guarantee your data isn’t being sniffed and copied by other users.
VPNs encrypt your traffic so you can check email and surf the web without anyone else being able to see what you’re doing, but only three per cent of WiFi users connect to their work email via a VPN.