Summertime Security: 5 Tips to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi

Forty-three percent of Americans would sacrifice their personal online security for faster Internet speed, according to a recent report.

The survey, conducted by SecureAuth and Wakefield Research, dives into Americans’ perceptions around Internet speed versus personal security over public Wi-Fi, and shows Americans as a whole will latch onto any Internet connection they can get even if it’s insecure.

Additionally, more than half of Americans (57 percent) have already given some sort of personal information online over public Wi-Fi. Disclosed personally identifiable information (PII) over public Wi-Fi include:

  • Address (44 percent).
  • Credit card number (32 percent).
  • Account passwords (32 percent).
  • Account passwords (29 percent).
  • Social Security number (16 percent).
  • Driver’s license number (15 percent).

The report also breaks down the statistics by demographics. Compared to the general public, the number of millennials that have given personal information online jumps to 78 percent. The researchers speculated the discrepancy between millennials and older respondents could be due to the fact millennials are accustomed to fast and efficient technology. And, since this age range is active on multiple social media sites, millennials may generally have fewer qualms about disclosing personal information.

Men were split fairly evenly between the choice of personal online security (51 percent) or speed (49 percent); however, significantly more women (62 percent) picked online security over speed.

The study also showed education matters, with 63 percent of college graduates answering they care about security, as opposed to the 47 percent of high school graduates.

“In [the case of using public Wi-Fi], individuals have agency in the matter: they can choose not to disclose PII over public Wi-Fi,” said Craig Lund, chief executive officer of SecureAuth. “This is especially important as we go into the summer travel season, when online behavior tends to be less business focused.”

With summer breaks, vacations, and road trips around the corner, people will be looking for ways to stay connected. If you need to hop onto public Wi-Fi, cybersecurity experts recommend these tips to reduce the risk and stay secure:

Use Virtual Private Network (VPN) software

“If you still doubt a network’s security when working on publicly available Wi-Fi, travelers should always utilize a virtual private network.…A VPN creates a secure encrypted connection and tunnels traffic to a proxy server. The encrypted connection protects your personal data, thus preventing hackers from accessing your files and other sensitive information stored on your device.”–Gagan Singh, president of mobile at Avast Software

Always use HTTPS:

“There are multiple browser extensions to help you manage [configuring your Internet browser to always use HTTPS], and you can tell you are on a secure site because a green lock will show up in the address bar. This setting ensures that your data is encrypted, so even if it is intercepted you are protected.”–Cesare Garlati, chief security strategist at the prpl Foundation and co-chair of the Mobile Working Group at Cloud Security Alliance

Use the app, not the browser:

“Many locations like banks, airlines, and email have dedicated applications to access services in addition to their public websites. Mobile applications generally have their own encryption, authentication, and communicate directly to services hosted by the provider. This provides an additional layer of security through the application and makes it more difficult to ‘sniff’ the traffic for PII.”–Morey Haber, vice president of technology at BeyondTrust

And if you use an app, know your encryption:

“While it’s not a guarantee of security, there’s a difference between accessing an encrypted app and the app that sends your password in plain text. That being said, even if it’s encrypted, if it’s sensitive (i.e. bank info) and not necessary, don’t open it.”–Paul Paget, chief executive officer of Pwnie Express

Check the network’s name and login credentials before connecting:

“It’s rather simple for someone to intercept your data in a man-in-the-middle attack by first setting up a network and naming it ‘Free Wi-Fi’; ask the restaurant or airport staff what the name of their network is.”–Simon Bain, chief executive officer at SearchYourCloud

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