Beware the dangers of free Wi-fi access

There are already more than 30,000 such hotspots across Hong Kong, with users lulled into a false sense of security

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 1:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 1:28am

With more than 30,000 Wi-fi hotspots across Hong Kong, no one is far away from accessing the internet for free. Indeed, staying connected has become so important the world over that most hotels, restaurants, bookstores and airports are equipped with such facilities. Chances are that you are also reading this article via a free public network. But the convenience may come at a price. Free access to these readily available hotspots without authentication means others, including hackers and cybercriminals, can also get unfettered access to your details, such as personal identity, passwords and credit card security codes.

The potential risks are often underestimated by many users. According to a global survey, nearly 90 per cent of Hong Kong respondents used a public Wi-fi hotspot to perform tasks that pose security issues, such as online banking and sharing credit card details. But they did not seem to be aware of the risks involved, as 45 per cent believed that their personal information was still “very safe” or “somewhat safe”. Only one in four users took protective measures, by using a virtual private network (VPN) that guards against hackers by encrypting data sent via public networks.

Hongkongers have false sense of network security with public Wi-fi hotspots, global survey finds

The false sense of cybersecurity is not unique to Hongkongers. A survey in the United States last year yielded similar results, with more than 60 per cent of public internet users thinking their information was safe. While half of them thought it was users’ responsibility to protect their information, 17 per cent believed websites were responsible for data protection; another 17 per cent put the onus on Wi-fi companies.

Hong Kong has a well-deserved reputation as a digital city, with mobile phone and internet penetration rates among the highest in the world. The trend for premises to provide free online access is also expected to grow as internet connection becomes indispensable. But as the surveys showed, there is more to innovation and technology than just convenience and comfort. It is imperative that we stay alert to cybersecurity risks, lest there are data leaks or even financial losses.