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"Free Wi-Fi Doesn’t Mean Safe Wi-Fi, And Neither Does Having the Password."

Most people who rely on public Wi-Fi to get online are willing to sacrifice security for access — ignoring or unaware of the risk from hackers, according to a new survey by the digital security company Norton by Symantec.

The 2017 Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report released this week found that 92 percent of Americans have potentially put their personal information at risk while using public Wi-Fi. They’ve logged in to:

A personal email account: 62 percent
Social media account: 56 percent
Their bank account or accessed other financial information: 32 percent
Work email: 29 percent

Nineteen percent said they had entered personally identifiable information, such as their Social Security number or birthday, while logged in at a public hotspot.

Why take the chance of being hacked? It could be that people who do this don’t realize the risk. Nearly 70 percent feel their personal information is safe when using a Wi-Fi hotspot, yet 41 percent can’t tell the difference between a secure or unsecure public Wi-Fi network.

“There is a deep divide between what people think is safe when it comes to using public Wi-Fi versus the reality,” Fran Rosch, an executive vice president at Symantec, said in a statement. “What someone thinks is private on their personal device can easily be accessed by cybercriminals through unsecure Wi-Fi networks or even apps with privacy vulnerabilities.”

Americans are obsessed with staying connected and we depend on public Wi-Fi to make that possible. The Norton survey found that:

More than half (57 percent) of the respondents said they can’t wait more than a few minutes before logging on to a Wi-Fi network or asking for the password after arriving at a café, hotel, or friend’s place
Seventy-five percent said access to a strong free Wi-Fi network is a deciding factor when choosing a hotel. Forty-nine percent said that’s how they decide which restaurant, bar or café to go to.
Thirty-five percent have accessed a Wi-Fi network with the owner’s permission. Twelve percent actually guessed or hacked the password to get in.
Ten percent would be willing to share personal details or allow access to their contact list to get a strong, free Wi-Fi signal when they’re away from home.

Free Doesn’t Mean Safe

Kevin Haley, director of Norton Security Response, told NBC News their research shows that many people believe companies wouldn’t offer free Wi-Fi if it weren’t safe. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. And it doesn’t take a sophisticated criminal to hack in to these public systems.


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