Hackers Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Personal Data

The worldwide scourge of cybercrime afflicted 689 million people in the past year, or more than twice the population of the United States.

by Tim Johnson, McClatchy Washington Bureau / November 16, 2016
Criminals who hide their computers shouldn’t go free. Shutterstock

(TNS) -- WASHINGTON — The worldwide scourge of cybercrime afflicted 689 million people in the past year, or more than twice the population of the United States, a California anti-virus software maker reported Wednesday.

Yet those hit by cybercrime often remain complacent, even sharing their passwords with friends, says a survey from Norton by Symantec, the security software maker.

Computer users know they are taking risks in using public Wi-Fi but do it anyway because it is so convenient at coffee shops, airports, hotels, libraries and other places, the survey found.

And using Wi-Fi only in exclusive hotels or restaurants is no guarantee. Hackers are more likely to seek out those Wi-Fi signals, said Fran Rosch, executive vice president of Norton by Symantec. Hotels and other buildings with controlled access offer no protection from hackers.

“They can be in the parking lot and do as much damage as the person in the hotel room next to yours,” Rosch said.

Consumers should use extreme caution over what they check online over Wi-Fi, he said.

“If you want to read the newspaper, no problem. Go for it. If you want to read your Facebook feed, no problem. But you probably don’t want to log on to your bank account,” Rosch said.

The survey was commissioned by Norton and conducted by Edelman Intelligence, a branch of Edelman, a global communications and PR firm headquartered in Chicago and included 20,907 consumers in 21 markets around the world.

The survey portrayed victims of cybercrime as abundant, a perception that would reinforce Norton’s business of selling anti-virus software or security software. The number was estimated to be 689 million, more than double the population of the United States, which the Census Bureau says is slightly under 325 million. They include victims whose computers or phones are hacked directly, those using public Wi-Fi, and those whose data is stolen from servers of a bank, retail vendor or other business.

For victims, the costs are high. Average victims spent 19.7 hours trying to deal with losses or damages related to cybercrime, such as waiting on hold to cancel credit cards or deal with banks, the survey found. Cleaning up contaminated computers is also a hassle.

“Some of these companies don’t make it easy,” Rosch said. “That whole remediation can be time consuming.”

About half of users think the online world has grown more dangerous than the real world, the survey found, yet their coping skills are deficient.

The survey found that “most people aren’t truly sure how to tell a real email from a fake email.” Cybercriminals commonly send fake emails to users, posing as acquaintances or masquerading as institutions, asking them to click on a link that asks for their password or installs malicious coding in their computer. That coding can be used to retrieve valuable data.

In other findings, the survey said:

  • 48 percent of parents believe their children are more likely to be bullied online than on the playground.
  • 62 percent of consumers said home devices — such as baby monitors, refrigerators, routers, smart televisions and home security systems — are secure. But Symantec researchers found vulnerabilities in 50 different devices commonly used in the home.

As more appliances and other devices come with built-in connections to the internet, Rosch said, cybersecurity will become ever more important.

“If consumers are overwhelmed today, it’s only going to get worse,” he said.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.