U.S. consumers love Wi-Fi access but don't always have safe habits when they visit hot spots, according to a new survey by industry group...

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U.S. consumers love Wi-Fi access but don’t always have safe habits when they visit hot spots, according to a new survey by industry group Wi-Fi Alliance.

The survey polled 1,054 Americans over the age of 18 through online interviews. The results showed 32 percent of respondents had tried to use a Wi-Fi network that wasn’t their own during the past 12 months, up from 18 percent in December 2008. When asked whether sharing a Wi-Fi network password or a house key required more trust, 40 percent of survey participants chose the former.

“We always think security is really important, and we’ve been prioritizing it for a long time,” said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director for the Wi-Fi Alliance. “We do feel like we’re at a point where … people are using a lot of Wi-Fi and doing more with Wi-Fi. The average household might have a couple of notebooks, a tablet, a smartphone, gaming devices or advanced digital home [devices] like set-top boxes all connecting via a Wi-Fi network.”

According to the Wi-Fi alliance, about 201 million households use Wi-Fi networks, and there are about 750,000 Wi-Fi hot spots worldwide. Davis-Felner said consumers should remember to set strong passwords for their wireless networks by changing the easy-to-hack default password that’s issued by manufacturers of wireless routers.

Web surfers should also take safeguards when they use public hot spots, most of which haven’t turned on security protections. Activities like online banking should be saved for a more secure connection.

“I don’t want to overstate this,” Davis-Felner said. “If you’re sitting in a coffee shop or an airport on a [Wi-Fi] network, you are highly more likely to have your purse stolen from under your seat while you’re checking Facebook than having your password stolen…. [But] what I do tell people is: If [I’m] in an unsecured hot spot, I would not transmit anything that I wouldn’t write on the back of a postcard.”