A striking number of U.S. travelers, while aware of the risks, are not taking the necessary steps to protect themselves on public Wi-Fi and are exposing their data and personal information to cyber criminals and hackers, according to research released today by AnchorFree, the global leader in consumer security, privacy and Internet freedom.
The PhoCusWright Traveler Technology Survey 2013 polled 2,200 U.S. travelers over the age of 18 revealing new insights into travelers’ online behavior and their understanding of cyber risks.
It is estimated that 89 percent of Wi-Fi hotspots globally are not secure. The increased use of smartphones and tablets to access unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspots has dramatically increased the risk of threats. Travelers were three times more likely to use a smartphone or tablet than a laptop to access an unsecured hotspot in a shopping mall or tourist attraction, two times more likely in a restaurant or coffee shop and one and a half times more likely at the airport.
“In the age of tablets, smartphones and ubiquitous hotspots, many travelers don’t realize that they are unsuspectingly sharing sensitive information with others on public Wi-Fi,” said David Gorodyansky, founder and CEO of AnchorFree, makers of Hotspot Shield VPN. “It’s troubling that while most travelers are concerned about online hacking, very few know how, or care enough, to protect themselves. Looming threats — from cyber thieves to malware and snoopers — are skyrocketing on public Wi-Fi and travelers need to be vigilant in protecting themselves.”
Further to this point, a striking 82 percent of travelers surveyed reported that they suspect their personal information is not safe while browsing on public Wi-Fi, yet nearly 84 percent of travelers do not take the necessary precautions to protect themselves online. The top three concerns cited when using public Wi-Fi are the possibility of someone stealing personal information when engaging in banking or financial sites (51 percent), making online purchases that require a credit or debit card (51 percent) and making purchases using an account that has payment information stored (45 percent). Travelers were less concerned about using email or messaging services on public Wi-Fi (18 percent).
“Consumers underestimate their exposure to risks when connecting to public Wi-Fi,” said Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert. “While credit card fraud is considered a traveler’s most significant risk, consumers should be aware that there are many levels to protecting personal data online – a compromised email account puts other accounts at risk, including credit cards, and provides hackers with a wealth of information they can use to steal your identity.”
Cyber-security threats are not the only issues people face while traveling. Thirty-seven percent of international travelers —which equates to 10 million U.S. travelers annually— encountered blocked, censored or filtered content including social networks (40 percent) such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during their trip. Top websites that were also blocked include video and music websites such as Hulu and YouTube (37 percent), streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify (35 percent), email (30 percent) as well as messaging sites such as Skype and Viber (27 percent).
To avoid the threat of hacking and cyber attacks, more than half of travelers (54 percent) try not to engage in online activities that involve personally sensitive information while one in five (22 percent) avoid using public Wi-Fi altogether because they believe their personal information is at risk. Only 16 percent reported using a VPN such as Hotspot Shield.
The data points referenced above come from a study commissioned by AnchorFree, fielded by PhoCusWright through Global Market Insite, Inc. and conducted as an online survey among a total of 2,203 U.S. travelers. To qualify for participation in the study, respondents were required to:
- Have taken at least one leisure trip at least 75 miles from home in the past 12 months that included paid lodging and/or air travel
- Have used the Internet to select a destination, compare and choose leisure travel products, book travel or share travel experiences in the past 12 months
- Have played an active role in planning their leisure trips in the past 12 months
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