56% of public WiFi users do not check if WiFi is encrypted before joining

New research from web hosting experts UK2 and YouGov has revealed that more than half of the UK’s public WiFi users are potentially putting confidential data at risk by connecting mobile devices to unsecured networks.

According to the survey, over half of all UK adults who ever use public WiFi (56%) do not check or only “rarely” check whether a public WiFi network is encrypted before use. Public WiFi networks in places such as coffee shops, pubs, airports or hotels, are often unsecured connections which can expose personal data and leave devices open to online threats such as malware, spyware and cyber-snooping.

The findings have been announced by UK2 as it launches VPNHQ, a new brand enabling users to set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) quickly and easily. VPNHQ employs native features of mobile devices to encrypt wireless communications, which makes using public WiFi networks far more secure and greatly reduces the chance of private information such as passwords or bank details being stolen or compromised.

When questioned, 67% of online UK adults did not know what is meant by the term VPN, and 68% of smartphone users did not know whether or not their device had VPN functionality. An interesting discrepancy to emerge from the research is that, despite the apparent lack of precautions taken in public, 86% of online adults who ever access WiFi at home take measures to ensure that their WiFi is secure.

“The results of our research on public WiFi usage suggest that users prioritise convenience over taking sensible security precautions,” says Russell Foster, managing director of VPNHQ. “The amount of personal data transmitted from mobile devices is growing, making them increasingly attractive targets for cyber criminals. Using a VPN is a simple, cost-effective and unobtrusive solution which exploits technology already native on almost every internet-enabled device on earth to provide security and peace of mind when using any wireless network.”

The research also shows that many consumers are in fact aware of the risks presented by public WiFi networks. According to the research 46% of all online UK adults are concerned about viruses, 41% admitted to worries about phishing or pharming, and 40% are anxious about the threat of cyber-snooping or hacking while using mobile devices.

Yet despite these concerns 22% of UK WiFi users have entered their email password when using public WiFi, 21% have logged into their Facebook account and 8% have sent their online banking password. 15% of those questioned had entered credit or debit card details to make purchases over public WiFi. Without a secure VPN tunnel, this information is freely available to any hackers who might be snooping on a public WiFi network.