How public Wi-Fi puts unprotected users at risk

76% of American smartphone and tablet users are at risk of privacy loss and identity theft via public Wi-Fi networks. The risk of using public Wi-Fi without a protected Internet connection leaves users’ personal information vulnerable to cyber criminals. However, using public Wi-Fi is harmless for users, if they install protection that allows secure Internet connection while accessing public networks.

Avast recently surveyed more than 13,000 Americans and found that consumers prefer to join free, public Wi-Fi networks, many of which do not require registration or a password, to avoid data overages or simply for convenience’s sake.

Additionally, 68 percent of respondents never or only sometimes turn off their Wi-Fi transmitters and enable their mobile devices to automatically join public Wi-Fi networks, leaving a large window for hackers to easily access sensitive personal information. When connected to public Wi-Fi, a mere six percent of Americans use a VPN to protect their mobile devices. Overall, nine-out-of-10 respondents access open, public Wi-Fi on a monthly basis. Forty-three percent connect daily or many times per week.

“As mobile cloud storage becomes more popular and the quest for free Wi-Fi continues to grow, open networks that require no passwords place unprotected consumers at great risk of compromising sensitive personal data,” said Jude McColgan, president of mobile at Avast.

“The majority of Americans don’t realize that all the personal information on their mobile devices becomes defenseless over public Wi-Fi if used without protection. These networks create an easy entry point for hackers to attack millions of American consumers on a daily basis,” McColgan added.

When connected to open Wi-Fi, more than a third of respondents are most concerned about having their personal financing information stolen (38 percent) and having personal login information (usernames and passwords) stolen (34 percent).

Just four percent of Americans worry about hackers accessing private photos, chat logs, and personal email and a mere five percent are concerned about work-related emails and documents being accessed by a third party. Sixteen percent of those surveyed, felt “they didn’t have anything to hide.”