Dubai: Consumers in the UAE are unable to resist a strong and free WiFi network, and their online actions may be placing their personal information at risk, according to Norton by Symantec’s 2017 Norton WiFi Risk Report.

But the siren song of free data means many throw caution to the wind when it comes to their personal information, with 95 per cent of UAE consumers indicating they have acted in an unsafe matter when connecting to WiFi hotspots, including potentially sharing their email or online bank account log-in information.

“In today’s world, most consumers demand constant connectivity, but there is a deep divide between what people think is safe when it comes to using WiFi hotspots versus the reality,” said Tamim Taufiq, Head of Norton Middle East.

The report surveyed more than 15,000 consumers in 15 countries, including 1,000 consumers in the UAE, to learn about their public Wi-Fi practices and perceptions.

“What someone thinks is private on their personal device can easily be accessed by cybercriminals through unsecure or fake WiFi networks or even apps with privacy vulnerabilities,” Taufiq said.

Many of the global findings show that people are aware of the risks of connecting to WiFi hotspots outside their home but are not necessarily changing their approach when accessing these networks. In fact, nearly everyone (95 per cent) is acting in a way that could put risk their personal and private information at risk.

According to the report, two-thirds (66 per cent) of the UAE consumers can’t wait more than a few minutes before logging onto a WiFi network or asking for the password after arriving at a friend’s place, cafe, hotel or other location. Nearly one-third have accessed WiFi without the WiFi network owner’s permission, and one in ten guessed or hacked the password to get in.

Further, half of people surveyed said the most important reason to stay connected so that someone important can contact them. Nearly four in 10 (39 per cent) say it’s important to use public WiFi to avoid draining their data plan.

The report stated that 43 per cent reported they would be horrified if the details of their bank accounts and financial information were posted online.

One in five (22 per cent) reported they would be embarrassed if the details of their private chats/texts conversation or closest secrets were posted online. About a 65 per cent of the consumers are willing to do or swap something for a strong, free WiFi. One in ten consumers will allow permission to access and edit all social media accounts in exchange for free WiFi.

Simple steps to help protect data online:

• Sharing less is best: Think twice before entering any type of personal information — from passwords, to financial details and photos — over public WiFi networks. Even if you’re not actively sharing the information, your device may be doing so for you.

• Go in knowing the potential consequences: Only share or look at less sensitive information on public Wi-Fi. Catching up on the daily news on public WiFi is fine. Paying your bills or entering any account information is not wise. Avoid any websites that hold any of your sensitive information, like banking sites or transactional sites on which you store credit card information.

• Check the network: Whether it’s at a coffee shop or at the airport, make sure to verify the name of the network with staff or on signage before connecting. It’s pretty easy for someone who wants to intercept your data to set up a network called “Free Wi-Fi”, or any other variation that includes a nearby venue name, to make you think it’s a legitimate source

• Do HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure): Many companies use secure websites to provide online security. You can tell if a website is secure if it has “https” in its URL and has a small lock symbol next to it. However, even though the website itself might be safe, your personal information could still be vulnerable if your network connection isn’t secure.

Danger lurks in public WiFi hotspots: Dubai Police

Dubai Police have recently warned of cybercriminals who can easily hack user’s personal information from public WiFi networks as hackers prey on victims who don’t understand they are vulnerable on the unencrypted networks.

Lieutenant-Colonel Salem Bin Salmeen, deputy director of Cyber Crimes Department in Dubai Police, said danger lurks in public WiFi hotspots  is everywhere and with free connections available in most public places, there are also dangers surrounding it.

“Cyber criminals set up WiFi hotspots, often with innocent-sounding names, such as ‘Free Public WiFi’, that con users into logging in. They go to malls and make a free WiFi network with the name of the mall or shops so people connect their devices to the network but then all information will be hacked,” he said.He claimed that many people are unaware of the risks involved in connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, and the personal information they are exposing to these hackers.