An Watchdog Investigation has revealed that the three of the top UK wi-fi providers; BT Openzone, The Cloud and T-Mobile are all prone to attack by hackers - leaving thousands of us at serious risk of fraud.
Thousands of these hotspots operate across the country in hotels, trains, airport lounges and high street food outlets but they may not be the safe and secure connection that many think they are !
According to Tom Illube, from internet security firm Garlik, over the last year there has been a 207% increase in 'account takeover fraud', where criminals attempt to access existing accounts rather than using stolen identities. With this in mind he finds the vulnerability of wi-fi hotspots a worrying dilemma.
Tom said: "I think a lot of people don't realise that using public wi-fi that's insecure is pretty much like writing your bank details onto a postcard and popping it in the post and being surprised that someone's read it."
Watchdog utilised equipment readily available on the internet to hijack wireless traffic in a variety of hotspot locations, while experts working with the programme-makers could have been able to take control of other hotspot users' internet accounts. Once inside these accounts, malicious hackers could have then been able to extract large amounts of personal data which would allow them to access the users' accounts on various different websites, including popular shopping and banking sites.
Watchdog asked Crimewatch presenter and former policeman Rav Wilding to set up an email account on a laptop at a wireless hotspot. The Watchdog team were able to access Rav's email within seconds before freezing him out of his account altogether. So although Rav was no longer able to use his email, the team still had full access to it.
Tom Illube also said: "You don't have to be a super hacker to get into this sort of information and therefore it's becoming more widespread and we as consumers need to be more careful about how we use them and what we use them for."
One way of protecting wi-fi connections at public hotspots is to use a Virtual Private Network or VPN. Although BT Openzone, The Cloud and T-Mobile all suggest using VPNs, only T-Mobile offer them as a software download when users log on.
Following Watchdog's investigation the three big hotspot providers told the programme that they would do more to encourage the use of VPNs to protect wi-fi users.
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