Consumer: Stay smart to avoid WiFi hackers

Leeds City Council Chief Executive Tom Riordan (left) and Kevin Baughan, Virgin Media Business Director
Leeds City Council Chief Executive Tom Riordan (left) and Kevin Baughan, Virgin Media Business Director
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Leeds has some of the best city centre WiFi access in the UK, but are we browsing as safely as we could? Aisha Iqbal reports.

Leeds has ambitions to become a ‘superconnected’ city, and as part of that vision, it recently became one of the first to deliver free wireless broadband access to users in Millennium Square and Briggate.

Around 18,000 people have already registered with the WiFi service, a partnership with Bradford.

There have been almost 58,000 internet sessions via the service since December 2012, according to project leaders.

Free wireless access has already been provided on the primary connecting bus service between the two cities.

And it is hoped that free WiFi access will be available to users of all libraries, galleries, museums and visitor centres over the coming months.

However where there is great vision and ambition, there are always those keen to take advantage.

And that is why it is important to sift the genuine ‘hotspots’ from the inevitable fraudsters and potential hackers.

According to a new survey, half of all Britons who access public WiFi hotspots do not know whether the WiFi network is secure or open when they connect to it via their smartphones, tablets or laptops, increasing their risk of identity theft.

The research by Experian Consumer Services has also discovered that of those respondents accessing WiFi hotspots, just one third considered how secure a WiFi network is before connecting.

Half of respondents said that they do not understand whether a WiFi network is secure or open when they connect to it via their smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Almost two-thirds of those questioned used WiFi hotspots to access email.

One in ten people questioned used public internet access for online banking.

In addition to the survey, a live experiment at six inner city locations – undertaken to better understand WiFi network security levels in major cities – found that almost four in every 10 WiFi hotspots were completely unsecure.

This meant consumers were potentially giving ‘open’ access to possible identity fraudsters looking to misuse their unsecured personal information.

The Experian WiFi Hotspots survey also revealed that the vast majority of consumers are unsure about how to securely use WiFi hotspots.

A massive 96 per cent of mobile users questioned said they accessed WiFi hotspots either not knowing or being unsure about how to select the most secure settings on their mobile devices.

Peter Turner, managing director of Experian Consumer Services UK and Ireland, said: “WiFi services and the vast choice of mobile devices are empowering us to live more of our online lives whilst on the go.

“Whilst this brings many advantages, we still need to be wary of any public unsecure WiFi hotspots.

“Think of them like you would a public phone call.

“You would not openly discuss something personal or private if you thought people were listening, so don’t say it with your laptop, tablet or smartphone. By being blasé, we are all putting ourselves at risk of identity theft.”

Experian Credit Expert’s web monitoring system, which scans forums where personal information is traded, found that over 35 million pieces of data were traded online in 2012 alone.

The figure was three times higher than in 2011.

Fraud is often first detected through anomalies appearing on credit reports or, if financial loss has already been suffered, through bank statements.

With the advent of web monitoring services, consumers can be instantly alerted if their personal details are being used or misused online so that they can take steps to identify and stop any suspicious activity before they become a victim of identity fraud.

People who think they have become victims of identity fraud should notify the police, contact their bank and check their credit report.

For further information and tips, visit

WiFi dos and don’ts

Important tasks such as online banking should be done at home.

Turn off automatic connection to preferred networks on your devices. A hacker only has to use a common network name for a fake hotspot, and you could be automatically connecting to it.

Don’t use any apps if you don’t know whether they encrypt data. Depending on the apps, you may be sharing personal information or logon details over WiFi that are not encrypted.

PIC: Simon Hulme

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