By Neelabja Adkuloo
There’s a deep divide between what people think is safe when it comes to using public Wi-Fi versus the reality. Despite the government’s push for free Wi-Fi networks in public places to further its ‘Digital India’ initiative, there is little that is being done to educate people about the risks that come with it.
According to Symantec’s ‘Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report’ that was released on July 18, a whopping 96 percent of Indians put personal information at risk while using public Wi-Fi for checking bank accounts, sharing personal photos, and videos. The survey focused on over a 1000 individuals in the age group of 18-29 years who were based in cities.
A threat to privacy and security
Like cell phones, Wi-Fi devices have unique identifiers that can be utilised for tracking purposes. Tracking by using a Wi-Fi hotspot can potentially lead to “third party harms” like cyber-stalking. Users who click ‘Yes’ when a mobile app asks if they can share their location data likely aren’t aware that their MAC (Media Access Control) addresses are collected. This data runs the risk of being handed off to advertisers and other third parties, which can use the information for profiling. There are no restrictions on how this information is gathered, how it is used, or with whom it is shared.
With hackers finding it easy to access personal information of the users, data can be hijacked by unauthorised internet access. Reportedly, a majority of 41 percent Indians would feel horrified if their financial details were stolen and published online by hackers.
Risky and questionable behaviour
Not only do Indians take significant risks to hook on to a free Wi-Fi connection at public places, they are also very careless about what content they are accessing on their smartphones, tablets and laptops when connected with these networks.
According to the survey, 31 percent respondents admitted to viewing nude, explicit or suggestive content on open networks. Other statistics revealed that almost half of the users have accessed Wi-Fi without the Wi-Fi network owner’s permission, some by guessing or hacking the password to get in.
How can users be safe?
Several telecom operators like Jio offer security services with their connections, but users are often unaware of the fact that they have to activate these services to avail them. The first step in reducing the risk of a cyber-attack while on a public Wi-Fi is to verify the legitimacy of the connection. A rogue site will end up with a browser message saying the digital certificate is invalid.
Users should be more cautious before entering any kind of personal information, like financial details, on open networks. Even if they are not actively sharing the data, their device may be doing so for them. To tackle this, they should disable file-sharing on the device before joining a free Wi-Fi hotspot.
Reliable networks for online security
Many companies use secure websites to provide online security. A user can tell if a website is secure if it has “https” (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) in its URL and has a small lock symbol next to it.
Using a Virtual Private Network encrypts internet communication, but reportedly only 45 per cent use a VPN. To counter this, Norton by Symantec has launched ‘Norton Wi-Fi Privacy’ that proves to be a powerful solution for Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, and iPad devices.
These statistics are alarming considering internet giants like Google and Facebook are gunning for public Wi-Fi services in India. There are hundreds of railway stations with free Wi-Fi across the country. The users should, therefore, be more prudent while using free public Wi-Fi.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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