Public WiFi users regularly access sensitive info

A considerable portion of U.S. adults who’ve ever used free public WiFi say they have accessed sensitive information while using it.

According to a PRIVATE WiFi survey, 66% of U.S. adults have used public WiFi and 39% of those who have said they have accessed or transmitted sensitive information while using it. This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll in March among 2,037 adults ages 18 and older.

When asked in what ways they have accessed sensitive information while using public WiFi:

  • 26% say they have checked a bank account
  • 19% say they have paid a bill
  • 8% say they have sent an email with sensitive information such as their Social Security Number or an account number
  • 6% say they have filed their taxes
  • 10% say they have done so in another way.

The survey also revealed U.S. adult attitudes towards potential threats when accessing free public WiFi. When asked about potential issues with using free public WiFi when accessing or transmitting confidential information:

  • 88% of U.S. adults mentioned identity theft
  • 76% answered compromised accounts
  • 39% noted that fraudulent tax filings could be a potential issue.

These findings come during tax season, when U.S. adults who use public WiFi may be more likely to access or transmit sensitive information containing financial data.

A VPN protects you when you access public WiFi by encrypting everything you send and receive — including web traffic, emails, and IMs. By rerouting your data through an encrypted server in another location, you stay anonymous.

The survey also asked about preferences and attitudes towards VPN technology. The results revealed what would prompt U.S. adults who don’t already use a VPN to purchase one:

  • 45% said if it were affordable
  • 30% said if they had more information overall
  • 24% said if their identity were compromised.

These findings indicate that there is still a need to educate U.S. adults when it comes to the potential threats posed by free public WiFi hotspots. For example, a VPN offers them a way to protect themselves from identity theft.

Additional key survey findings include:

  • 53% of free public WiFi users are men, while 47% are women
  • 37% of free public WiFi users are ages 18-34, 19% are ages 35-44, 18% are ages 45-54, 15% are ages 55-64, and 11% are ages 65+
  • 64% of free public WiFi users have at least some college education
  • 17% of free public WiFi users have a total household income of $50K-$74.9 and 42% have at total household income of $75K+
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