Public wi-fi warning - cyber security: Has it clicked?

Tony Neate
Tony Neate

Make sure logging on to free public Wi-fi doesn’t end up costing you a fortune.

Officers from the force cyber crime unit are supporting a national drive by our partners Get Safe Online to warn people to be cautious about what they access when using Wi-fi hotspots.

Inspector Rich Osgerby: “Public Wi-fi may provide fast and convenient access to the net, but it also provides cyber criminals with a number of convenient attack routes.

“Remember, if it is quick and easy for you to join the network, the same applies to criminals and it provides a great opportunity for them to get unfettered access to any unsecured devices that are logged on to the same network.”

The UK now has more than 300,000 hotspots – and not all of them are secure, giving criminals the opportunity to defraud victims, steal their identity – or in the worst cases, both.

In some cases, cyber criminals have also been known to set up fake hotspots on their own laptops in public places and fool members of the public into logging onto them.

Insp Osgerby said: “The attacker can intercept sensitive data such as emails, bank details and credit card information.

“All activity using public Wi-fi carries some danger. However online shopping, online banking and downloading apps are all things that should only ever be done when using a secure connection.”

To keep yourself safe when using public Wi-fi, follow these basic dos and don’ts:


Be cautious and verify the authenticity of a Wi-fi network before logging on to it. Remember that just being given an access code or being asked form your email address, doesn’t indicate that the Wi-Fi connection is secure.

Use mobile data services such as 4G in preference to public Wi-fi wherever possible.

Raise any concerns or suspicions with the manager of the organisation and the police

Consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to connect when accessing your company network. If you are a mobile worker, ask your IT department.

Wherever possible, use well-known, commercial hotspot providers such as BT OpenZone or T-Mobile.

It’s OK to use public Wi-Fi hotspots for things that you don’t have to log into or aren’t confidential, like checking the news or planning (but not booking) your next holiday.


Download any applications to your smart phone, tablet or PC

Install any updates

Use the public Wi-Fi provided in places such as cafes, pubs and hotel rooms if doing anything confidential online, including logging into online account

Give personal details or credit card details to any site

Tony Neate (pictured)CEO of Get Safe Online, added: “The UK has well over 300,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots in place – these situated in many of the places we love to visit whether that be a high street shopping centre, hotel or restaurant. The very fact that we have all of these hotspots goes to show that we are a very connected nation. However, although public Wi-Fi offers us great convenience, it can also present a number of dangers – especially as many of us are unaware of the actual security of the hotspots we use on a regular basis. Although they may seem safe when logging in, individuals could soon find themselves the victims of cyber crime.

“Although it may sound like the stuff of a spy thriller, cyber criminals can easily hijack public networks in order to steal our money and our most personal data – in some extreme cases, even our identity. Our advice is not to use public networks if you are looking to browse confidential information; are about to log into an account (like an online bank account); or are about to make a payment of some sort. Doing so on a public network comes with huge risk – particularly if you don’t know how secure the network you’re using is.”