AARP releases report on WiFi use

CONCORD – A new sur­vey of Internet users shows that the freedom and con­venience of public wireless networks may come at a cost.

Nearly half failed a quiz about online and wireless safety, while tens of thou­sands admitted to engaging in activity that could put them squarely in the sights of hackers looking to steal their personal information.

An AARP Fraud Watch Network report, "Conve­nience versus Security," shows that among adults who access the Internet, a quarter use free public Wi- Fi once a week or more.

"A free Wi-Fi network at an airport, hotel or coffee shop is convenient," said Todd Fahey, of AARP New Hampshire. "But without a secure network, Americans risk oversharing, leaving themselves vulnerable to attacks by con artists and hackers."

In response to these threats and need for great­er awareness of the risks of cyber scams, AARP is launching the "Watch Your Wi-Fi" campaign to educate Americans about the risks of free public Wi-Fi and how they can protect them­selves.

The survey results unveil a high incidence of risky on­line behaviors:

  • Among those who say they use free public Wi-Fi, more than a quarter of re­spondents (27 percent) say they have banked online via public Wi-Fi in the last three months.

  • Similarly, 27 percent of those who use free pub­lic Wi-Fi have purchased a product or service over public Wi-Fi using a credit card.

  • Twenty-six percent of smartphone users do not use a passcode on their phones.

  • Sixty-one percent do not have online access to all of their bank accounts.

  • Among those who have set up access to all or some of their online banking accounts, almost half (45 percent) say they have not changed their on­line banking passwords in the past 90 days. Experts say that online bank ac­count passwords should be changed every 90 days.

  • Nearly half of survey respondents (45 percent) failed a quiz about online and wireless safety. Ap­proximately 40 percent of respondents were not aware that:

  • It is not OK to use the same password on more than one site, even if it contains a complex mix of letters, numbers and sym­bols.

  • Even if you are not us­ing the Internet, if you’re in a location with a public Wi-Fi network, you should disable your wireless con­nection.

  • It is not safe to access websites with sensitive information, such as bank­ing or credit cards, while using a public Wi-Fi net­work, even if the website is secured by https.

"The Fraud Watch Net­work’s "Watch Your Wi- Fi" campaign is giving Granite Staters the infor­mation they need to stay connected without sacri­ficing their personal secu­rity," Fahey said.

A newly launched FWN cyber scam website fea­tures "Four Things Never to Do on Public Wi-Fi:"

Don’t fall for a fake

Con artists often set up unsecure networks with names similar to a legiti­mate coffee shop, hotel or other free Wi-Fi network.

Mind your business

Don’t access your email, online bank or credit card accounts using public Wi- Fi.

Watch your settings

Don’t let your mobile device automatically con­nect to nearby Wi-Fi.

Stick to your cell

Don’t surf using an un­known public network if the website requires sen­sitive information – like online shopping. Your cell­phone network is safer.

Consumers may also visit the new website to learn about three scams frequently associated with public Wi-Fi, includ­ing the "man-in-the-mid­dle attack," an "evil twin" ruse, and the "war driving attack."

For additional infor­mation, including a vid­eo demonstrating the risks of unsecure Wi-Fi, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network atwww. aarp.org/fraudwatch network.