Public Wi-Fi Network: Consumers unaware of threat from hackers

Public Wi-Fi: Consumers unaware of the Risk from Hackers By Richard Allen, Education Lead, 7Safe | 11 January 2016

While recent high profile hacks such as those on TalkTalk, VTech and the Hyatt Hotels Group have been widely reported, Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime run by the City of London Police, reported last week [1] that many people are still leaving themselves open to attack from hackers through their use of the public Wi-Fi network.

With an estimated 269,000 Wi-Fi hotspots now available throughout the UK compared with just under 203,000 in 2014, the thirst for continual connectivity means that public Wi-Fi is something that many find themselves reliant on. However there is still a lack of awareness about cyber hacking and how cyber criminals use the public Wi-Fi network as a vehicle to steal personal and financial details from individuals and businesses. Deputy Head of Action Fraud, Steve Proffitt said: “There is no doubt that people face risk when they connect to a public Wi-Fi network. It is important that people consider what they use public Wi-Fi for and are aware that there are cyber criminals that will use every opportunity to infiltrate networks in order to gather personal and financial details”. 

Action Fraud, states that one of the most common threats to public Wi-Fi is a ‘Man in the Middle Attack’. This is when a cyber criminal joins a public Wi-Fi network and relies on the established connection to the victim’s machine to redirect the communication flows through the attackers host network. This allows the hacker to incept sensitive personal information such as emails, social networking, credit card information and security credentials of the user’s business network.

Unfortunately victims are often unaware of how cyber hackers gained access to their information and the police believe that this type of attack is hugely under reported. According to recent research undertaken by Ofcom, 77 percent of people said that they did not feel that public Wi-Fi was any less secure than their own personal internet connection, with 75 percent also saying that they wouldn’t curb their activity on public Wi-Fi and they weren’t conscious of anything they may need to avoid doing whilst using it.

But, it’s not all bad news … here’s what you can do to protect yourself and your business whilst using Public Wi-Fi:

  1. Improve the overall security awareness of your employees. Our modular awareness programmes can be tailored from a 30-minute “lunch and learn” to full day events, helping people to recognise the threats they face both in their personal lives and at work. They will leave armed with a practical set of tips to reduce both the likelihood and impact of a future security breach.
  2. Exercise caution and verify the authenticity of the Wi-Fi network before logging onto it or use mobile data services wherever possible.
  3. Use a trusted Virtual Private Network (VPN) service in order to secure your traffic. By using a VPN when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, you’ll be encrypting all of your data that passes through the network.
  4. Don’t download apps or updates to your electronic devices.
  5. Avoid accessing your emails, social network accounts, online banking services or shopping online.


Richard Allen is Education Business Development Manager at 7Safe, PA Consulting Group’s technical security practice based at the Cambridge Cyber Development Centre, which has trained over 500 of the UK’s leading ethical hackers and digital forensics professionals.

Call us on 01763 285 285 to claim a Free Training Consultation to discuss how 7Safe can assist your organisation improve the overall security awareness of your team.

"Unfortunately victims are often unaware of how cyber hackers gained access to their information and the police believe that this type of attack is hugely under reported. "


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