Would you do your online banking on an unsecured public Wi-Fi network? If you answered yes, you’re not alone: a study from RMIT has just revealed two million Australians are doing just that every single day – and risking data breaches in the process.
This study is the first time survey data has been analysed to work out just how much the average Australian understands what public Wi-Fi networks are used for, as well as network security.
Dr Ian McShane, from the RMIT Centre for Urban Research, said that in the three months before the study was undertaken, at least 10 million people logged on to public networks in Australia, but the results showed there was limited awareness of data security risks and the measures people could take to minimise risk.
"Australia ranks sixth highest on an international scale of cyber attacks, which means we should be highly attentive to security issues," Dr McShane said. "Yet we found that almost two million Australians were conducting financial transactions, and around one million were performing work-related tasks, including email and file sharing, on insecure networks".
Dr McShane called unsecured networks "easy pickings" for hackers and "cyber criminals", but the results of the study showed even where users are familiar with security options, many choose to forgo them, preferring convenience over security - not only exposing public Wi-Fi users, but also putting businesses at significant risk.
The report also looks at the "long and overly-complex" terms and conditions often attached to the public Wi-Fi networks, accusing them of "burying" security advice, which may mean customer's aren't really making an informed choice.
Associate Professor Mark Gregory, from the RMIT School of Engineering, says network providers and policy-makers must prioritise consumer education on security.
"If Australia is to implement a successful roll-out of public WiFi, then governmental, industry and consumer bodies must consider developing a public awareness campaign on public WiFi security," Gregory said. "Businesses and employers should actively develop protocols and procedures relating to public WiFi use".
"Given the level of financial transactions conducted over insecure public networks, financial institutions too have a strong incentive to take part in such campaigns."