Using public Wi-Fi could lead to loss of confidential personal data for over half of UK users, a new study from YouGov shows.

The study reveals that 56% of those who use public Wi-Fi tend not to check whether the Internet access is safe. This means that if a network is not encrypted, hackers have easy access to users´ data such as passwords, bank accounts and other confidential information by using spyware and cyber-snooping.

Most frequently, the respondents in the study use public Wi-Fi in places like hotels, airports and cafes. Almost half of the users are worried about viruses, while phishing is a concern to 41%. A further 40% fear they might become subject to hackers´ attacks or cyber-snooping while going online via their mobile devices.

Even though many users are aware of the risk, close to a quarter of those surveyed say they have used their password to access their e-mails and a similar proportion have visited their Facebook profiles while using public Wi-Fi. Some 15% have entered details about their credit or debit cards and 8% have used their banking password.

Quite paradoxically, however, the survey found that 86% of those polled took steps to secure their Wi-Fi connections at home, suggesting that users are familiar with the possible ways to protect their data but they find the convenience of public Wi-Fi more important than security.

Ben Hollom

January 30, 2012