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Fear of identity theft is not a deterrent for using public wi-fi — but it should be

Skift Take

Internet ignorance is bliss. Public Wi-Fi use has jumped 240 percent in the past year, but privacy fears aren’t strong enough to stop users from sharing credit card numbers and work files on open servers.

— Samantha Shankman

Despite the fear of identity theft and threats from computer viruses, the use of public wireless Internet access has jumped 240 percent in the last 12 months, a new survey has found.

The top log-in sites were coffee shops and restaurants (75 percent), hotels (54 percent) and airports (38 percent), according to an online survey of 377 people by the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center in partnership with Private WiFi, a firm that develops online protection software.

Summertime lunch in Bryant Park, Aug 2009 - 52

Cafes and restaurants are the top log-in sites. Photo by Ed Yourdon.

Still, Internet users are aware of the risks of using public Wi-Fi. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed said they feared they could be victims of identity theft. Nonetheless, 24 percent of those surveyed said they made an online purchase using a credit card and 57 percent accessed sensitive work-related material.

The survey’s authors suggest users of public Wi-Fi log on with a virtual private network, or VPN, to protect their data. But 44 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t know there was a way to protect themselves while using public Wi-Fi.

(c)2012 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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