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Many Unknowingly at Risk Using Public WiFi

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Report: Majority of people are unaware of free WiFi risks

There can many risks using free WiFi networks in public spots like cafes, hotels and airports. Problem is, most connecting to these WiFi networks don't fully understand the risks involved.

Internet security firm Norton released its Wi-Fi Risk Report today, which detailed recent findings regarding use of public WiFi networks, along with both real and perceived risks in doing so.

The report analyzed online habits of WiFi users, including the likelihood of passing sensitive data like banking information or important passwords, and also gauged public perception of the overall security of various WiFi networks available for public use. The results raised many red flags.

According to the Norton study, 87 percent of U.S. consumers have used WiFi at public places like coffee shops or hotels, with 69 percent connecting to WiFi on a smartphone and 47 percent utilizing the free WiFi on a laptop computer.

"We know many consumers believe that using a password to access public Wi-Fi means their information is safe, but that’s not necessarily the case." -- Fran Rosch, executive vice president, Norton Business Unit, Symantec.

A false sense of security

Norton revealed that of those that have utilized free WiFi, 61 percent believe that their personal information is completely safe when connecting to these public networks. About 17 percent of users believe that websites accessed are responsible for the safety of their information when browsing using free WiFi, while another 17 percent think the WiFi company itself is responsible for the safety of their information. Neither is true.

Even more, less than half -- 42 percent -- of U.S. consumers can properly tell the difference between a secure and unsecure public WiFi network.

What's at risk

The study revealed that many people connect to public WiFi networks, and that a large portion of those users don't completely understand the risks associated with these types of networks. Additionally, Norton specified the types of behaviors that WiFi users are taking part in while on public networks.

More than half (58 percent) had logged into personal accounts, while 56 percent had logged into social media accounts, and 27 percent had logged into other sites that with a password. Nearly a quarter (22 percent) had accessed bank accounts or other financial information, and 17 percent had provided credit card information over public networks.

Matt Mills Matt Mills has been involved in various aspects of online media, both on the editorial side and on the technology side, for more than 16 years. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and is currently involved in multiple projects focused on innovation journalism.