Home Home Tech Australians acting unsafely with public Wi-Fi security: wake up!

Australians acting unsafely with public Wi-Fi security: wake up!

A new report on Wi-Fi security shows 66% of Aussies use public Wi-Fi unsafely, yet while 60% believe their info is safe, they don’t know how to use Wi-Fi safely.

Norton by Symantec’s 2017 Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report has discovered consumers are unable to resist a strong, free Wi-Fi network, and because of this, their “online behaviours may be placing their personal information at risk.”

Of course, companies often have to use terms like “may” or “may be” rather than “are”, but given how nasty and tricky cyber criminals have become, it’s a undeniable risk.

So, what data do Australians value most as far as privacy is concerned?

It turns out that Aussies “value the privacy of their photos the most, and would be more angry if hackers accessed and posted their private photos online over their financial information".

And, while we’re supposed to be “protective” of our data, Norton’s research shows that most of us “don’t take precautionary measures to protect themselves, or know when they’re at risk of data breaches when accessing public Wi-Fi".

Mark Gorrie, director of ANZ Norton Business Unit, said: “There is a deep divide between what people think is safe when it comes to using public Wi-Fi versus the reality.

“What someone thinks is private on their personal device can easily be accessed by cybercriminals through unsecured Wi-Fi Networks or even apps with privacy vulnerabilities.”

Norton’s Wi-Fi Risk Report is an online survey of 15,532 adults aged 18+ who use Wi-Fi across 15 countries, with more than 1000 Australians taking part in the survey “to learn about their public Wi-Fi practices and perceptions".

Many of the findings show Australians are aware of the risks of public Wi-Fi, but are not necessarily changing their behaviour.

Here are just some of the Australian specific highlights:

Australians are big risk takers when it comes to using public Wi-Fi

  • 60% said they feel safe when using public Wi-Fi, despite over half of them (51%) not using a VPN when connected.
  • 83% have used a public Wi-Fi network to log into personal email accounts, check bank balances and/or share photos and videos.
  • Over half (59%) can’t tell if a public Wi-Fi network is secure, with respondents saying they’re either unsure or don’t know (23 and 36%, respectively).

Australians would be more angered if hackers posted their photos online, rather than their financial information.

  • 43% of Australians would be angered if a hacker stole photos from their device, followed by private conversations (42%) and banking details (39%).
  • Conversely, the disclosure of bank details and financial information is the most worrying (41%), followed by children’s location and academic details, and browser history (both 32%).
  • Similarly, disclosure of financial information is horrifying to over half (51%) of Australians, followed by closest secrets (40%); children’s location and academic details (30%); and online dating profile and relationship status (17%).
  • Interestingly, only less than half (47%) would feel embarrassed if their personal information from their device was posted publicly online. 19% would be embarrassed if it were their closest secrets; 14% in the case of intimate and personal photos; and 15% if it were their browser history.

Wi-Fi access is a must when travelling

  • Australians are unable to resist access to a strong and free Wi-Fi network despite the risks. This is especially true while travelling.
  • Australians say access to a strong Wi-Fi network is a deciding factor when choosing a hotel (59%), airline (29%), and transport hub (28%).

So, how can you help ensure your personal information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands?

Well, Symantec advises us that, “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”:

  • Use Security Software: One of the best ways to protect your information online is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) from a trusted vendor such as Symantec’s Norton WiFi Privacy. VPNs provide a “secure tunnel” that encrypts data being sent and received between your device and the internet.

My comment? Although Symantec clearly hopes you’ll use its own Norton WiFi Privacy app on iPhone, iPad or Android, there are many choices out there.

Perhaps one day Symantec and other security suite makers will also simply include VPN connectivity as standard in their Internet Security suites, but until then, you’ll definitely need a separate VPN app on your PC, Mac, smartphone and tablet if you want to stay safe on Wi-Fi - even if it’s Wi-Fi at a friend’s place!

Back to Norton’s tips:

  • Look for 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 be vulnerable if your network connection isn’t secure.
  • 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.

So, please stop taking Internet security for granted. Stop relying on built-in security suites, and stop trusting free or paid Wi-Fi without a VPN, because you’re definitely taking a risk!

Symantec has more information here.



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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.


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