Dorset Police and Get Safe Online have issued a warning to the public to be cautious when accessing or supplying private, sensitive or personal data while connected to public Wi-Fi hotspots.
The advice given by Get Safe Online relates to Wi-Fi networks that are commonly found in public places like cafes, hotel rooms, airports, and pubs. It warns that if not fully secure, these networks have the potential to be hijacked by cyber criminals who will seize the opportunity to defraud individuals or steal their identity – or both.
In addition, it reports, cyber criminals have been known to set up fake hotspots on their own laptops in public places and fool members of the public into logging onto them.
Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, commented: “The UK has well over 300,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots in place – situated in many of the places we love to visit including high street shopping centres, hotels and restaurants.
“The very fact that we have all of these hotspots goes to show that we are a very connected nation. However, although public Wi-Fi offers us great convenience, it can also present a number of dangers – especially as many of us are unaware of the security of the hotspots we use on a regular basis.
“Although they may seem safe when logging in and even sometimes request a code, individuals could soon find themselves the victims of cyber- crime.”
Staying safe on public Wi-Fi networks:
Along with its warning, Get Safe Online has produced a number of simple tips which should be followed in order to stay safe when using public Wi-Fi networks:
- Don’t use the public Wi-Fi provided in places such as cafes, pubs and hotel rooms if doing anything confidential online, including logging into online accounts.
- Remember that just being given an access code or being asked for your email address, doesn’t indicate that the Wi-Fi connection is secure.
- Instead of using premises’ hotspots, use a mobile broadband dongle that is set to secure, your 3G or 4G data connection – even if it’s slower – or wait until you can access a router you know to be secure.
- Consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to connect when accessing your company network. If you are a mobile worker, ask your IT department.
- Wherever possible, use well-known, commercial hotspot providers such as BT Wi-Fi.
- Ensure your home and office wireless networks are secured.
It’s OK to use public Wi-Fi hotspots for things that you don’t have to log into or aren’t confidential, like checking the news or planning (but not booking) your next holiday.
Dorset Police’s Director of Investigations, Detective Superintendent Pete Little said: “Cyber criminals can easily hijack public networks in order to steal our money and our most personal data – in some extreme cases, even our identity.
“Our advice is not to use public networks if you are looking to browse confidential information, are about to log into an account (like an online bank account), or are about to make a payment of some sort.
“Doing so on a public network comes with huge risk – particularly if you have no way of knowing how secure the network you’re using is.”
Martyn Underhill, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner added: “Cyber-crime has the potential to affect every household and business in Dorset and I am committed to ensuring Dorset Police do everything possible to prevent these crimes.
“In a modern digital world, it is easy to connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots and access a whole host of services, but we must remain vigilant.”