Public Wi-Fi: Users’ habits and perceptions of risk

A new Xirrus survey highlights users’ habits and perceptions of risk when connecting to public Wi-Fi. The survey polled more than 2,000 business users, including executives and IT professionals, and found that while 91 percent of respondents do not believe public Wi-Fi is secure, 89 percent use it anyway.

public wi-fi

“As cyber threats, like ransomware, get more sophisticated, the number of victims and methods of attacks will only increase,” said Morgan Wright, cyber security expert and senior fellow at The Center for Digital Government. “Businesses not only have a corporate responsibility to educate their users of the risks associated with connecting to public Wi-Fi, but also to give them the necessary tools to avoid attacks.”

The proliferation of public Wi-Fi

People expect public Wi-Fi at nearly every place they go – from coffee shops and hotels to airports and planes. Accessing Wi-Fi has become routine to most, yet few public networks protect users’ data when they connect. While these networks offer convenience, they rarely encrypt data, leaving passwords exposed and sensitive data vulnerable to hackers.

To make matters worse, employers often do not provide the tools or education necessary to help their increasingly mobile workforce stay vigilant while outside of their seemingly secure corporate or home network.

public wi-fi

Dangerous public Wi-Fi usage

The study reveals the growing disparity between the increased use of public Wi-Fi and the lack of precaution taken against security threats when connecting. Key findings include:

  • 48 percent of Wi-Fi users connect to public Wi-Fi at least three times per week; 31 percent connect to public Wi-Fi every day.
  • 91 percent of Wi-Fi users do not believe public Wi-Fi is secure, yet 89 percent use it anyway.
  • When on public Wi-Fi, 83 percent of Wi-Fi users access their email, whether it’s for work or personal reasons, and 43 percent access work/job specific information.
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of Wi-Fi users say their company has not offered cyber security training in the past year.
  • Nearly 30 percent of respondents are not aware of ransomware as a threat, despite it being identified as one of the most pervasive cyber threats.

“Today, the convenience of using public Wi-Fi, for a variety of work and recreational uses, supersedes security, which puts both individuals and businesses at risk,” said Shane Buckley, CEO of Xirrus. “Most businesses do not offer secure connectivity options for customers and guests. And what makes connecting to public Wi-Fi even more risky is that employers rarely provide proper education around these security risks, or provide tools to keep their employee and company data safe. Using a secure personal network helps Wi-Fi users stay safe by creating a local network for the user that encrypts all data, and protects their devices from being visible on the public network.”

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