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Stay off of Free Public Wi-Fi, Says HBR

And, quite frankly, everyone else

By Dennis Jones


It’s not often that Harvard Business Review tackles the subject of mobile security. But when it does, it’s not understatement to say it brings a “fresh perspective.” In a recent article, global security consultant, Luke Bencie, did just that. Discussing the need to stay off of free public Wi-Fi networks, he cited interesting opinion surveying that came out of the city-state of Singapore a couple years ago.

There, polling showed that almost 70 percent of Singapore consumers were more wary of using free public Wi-Fi than they were of using public toilets. And it’s not all about the cleanliness of Singaporean toilets either. For the same Norton report showed that 62 percent of respondents believed that their credit card information was more likely to be stolen online, as opposed to 38 percent which believed credit card details were more likely to be stolen out of their wallets. Similarly, 70 percent of respondents thought that storing credit card information in the cloud was far riskier than not wearing a seatbelt. Unsurprisingly, in aggregate, nearly 50 percent of Singapore consumers confessed to being the victims of cybercrime. Nonetheless, when it came to warding against cybercrime, only a minority of respondents took effective actions, like using passwords that were difficult to decipher.

Now, transfer that study to the rest of the world, especially the U.S., where we are all theoretically on high alert against cybercrime. Bencie referenced another study, this time conducted during last year’s Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Mobile security company, Avast, planted fake, free public Wi-Fi hotspots to see how many people would log in. At the Republican National Convention alone, more than 1,200 people logged in, with over two thirds of those exposing their identities in the process.

What’s the moral of the story? People know they need to be on guard. They’re just not willing to sacrifice rudimentary convenience.

And those findings aren’t just apposite to consumers either. Enterprise users and their IT administrators also demonstrate the same characteristics, as captured in our annual Mobile Security Report 2017. In the U.S., for instance, organizations consistently rank among the highest when it comes to concerns about their mobile security. Yet the actions of those organizations rarely follow suit. For example, those companies continue to permit the use of free public Wi-Fi and encourage the use of MiFi devices.

Something has to change.