Warning over 'fake Wifi hotspots' that let crooks steal your personal data

MILLIONS of Brits have gambled with their personal data by blindly accessing "fake Wifi hotspots", according to a study.

One in five have taken "significant risks" by failing to check if public Wifi connections are legitimate – instead using hotspots which are free, seem to be credible and offer fast speeds.

Worryingly, users could be connecting to "fake Wifi" hotspots which can appear to be reputable but allow cybercriminals to eavesdrop on users and steal usernames, passwords and bank details.

These Wifi connections, which often have innocuous sounding names such as "airport Wifi" or "hotel Wifi", can also redirect victims to malicious malware sites and phishing sites.

Commissioned by cybersecurity company, BullGuard, the research of 2,000 adults found seven in 10 have used free public Wifi.

And of those who have done so, more than a third have entered passwords, a fifth have used credit cards and 31 per cent have accessed online banking – all data hackers are after.

How to protect yourself when using public wifi

HERE are a few tips from Action Fraud on how to stay safe when surfing the web on public wifi:

  • Find out how secure the network is before logging on. For example, ask an employee at the location that’s providing the connection and ask for information about their access point – such as the connection’s name and IP address.
  • Use a trusted Virtual Private Network (VPN) service in order to secure your traffic. It will encrypt all of your data that passes through the network making it harder to steal.
  • Use your mobile data if you really can't trust the connect but be aware of any extra costs.
  • While you're connected, don’t download apps or install updates.
  • Avoid accessing your emails, social network accounts or online banking services.
  • Don’t online shop because it can reveal your financial details.

Paul Lipman, CEO at BullGuard, said: "Consumers are choosing convenience over safety when using public Wifi.

"Hackers can easily set up malicious hotspots which appear to be legitimate and yet can intercept and record people’s personal data.

"This allows them to steal usernames, passwords, credit card details, bank account information and more."

The research also found two thirds of public Wifi users have set up their devices to automatically connect to the nearest hotspot – putting their personal details on the line.

Paul Lipman added: "If your device is set up this way, and if you're not paying attention when you first choose a hotspot, even once, and you accidentally choose something malicious, your device will automatically select it every time it is within range."

Further to this, four in 10 users habitually connect to hotspots with a name reflecting the location they are in such as "library Wi-Fi" or "restaurant Wi-Fi" – again this could be a risky move.

How to protect yourself from fraudsters

ACTION Fraud recommends taking the following advice to stay safe:

  • When making a purchase, be suspicious of any requests to pay by bank transfer or virtual currency instead of safer methods, such as credit card or payment services such as PayPal.
  • Listen to your instincts: If something feels wrong then it is usually right to question it. Don’t pay for goods or services unless you know and trust the individual or business.
  • Personal information obtained from data breaches is making it increasingly easier for fraudsters to create highly targeted phishing messages and calls – watch out for these.
  • You shouldn’t assume the caller is genuine just because they’re able to provide some basic details about you.
  • Always be suspicious of unsolicited requests for your personal or financial information.

But despite taking gambles like these when using public Wifi, the BullGuard study carried out through OnePoll found 62 per cent are "afraid" their devices will be hacked.

The biggest worries are theft of bank details (68 per cent) and passwords (56 per cent) – followed by personal emails being accessed (27 per cent).

Paul Lipman said: "The findings show that respondents do not feel safe online, yet they are ignoring their fears and are using hotspots without checking they are safe."

The research also identified confusion around staying safe when using public Wifi – almost half are mistakenly under the impression antivirus software will protect their data.

Paul Lipman added: "Although essential for detecting and removing malware from your device, antivirus offers no protection at all from having your data intercepted by a malicious hotspot.

"But a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an effective way of keeping you safe online when using public Wifi.

"It creates a secure connection tunnel between your device and the websites and services you are accessing to keep you safe whether you’re using a smartphone or laptop on public Wifi in a café, or if you want to check online banking accounts from an airport or hotel."

Amid this, six in 10 admitted they don’t use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) when connecting to hotspots and 57 per cent believe they are "too complicated" to use.

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