A sense of apathy is causing Australians to place themselves in harm’s way when it comes to online threats. While Aussies are aware that protecting their privacy online is important, they show a distinct lack of vigilance when it comes to actually putting that awareness into action.
While we all like to think we're reasonably vigilant with security on our devices, we tend to be lulled into a false sense of security if we haven't been affected for a while. So here's something that should snap you back to attentive: A new cyberworm, called BlueKeep, is shaping up to be one of the worst mass cyber attacks since WannaCry. Yikes.
According to Norton Australia’s Project 360 Data Report, 93 per cent of Australians surveyed agree that online privacy is important to them, but only one in four surveyed (28 per cent) uses a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This leaves them vulnerable to cyber criminals seeking access to the data being sent to and from their devices and can act as a welcome mat for malware.
While 83 per cent of Aussies surveyed agree they are concerned about the level of privacy they have when online, self-protection can be quickly compromised when they are faced with a little inconvenience. For example, while more than half of Australians (55 per cent) do not believe their information will be safe while using a public Wi-Fi network, almost the same figure (53 per cent) would risk using public Wi-Fi without a VPN to avoid additional charges on their phone bill.
This is troubling, as the risks associated with using public Wi-Fi networks unprotected can be immense – attackers will often create fake Wi-Fi hotspots purporting to be legitimate networks to catch unsuspecting users.
While a VPN would help to reduce risk by automatically switching on whenever the user accesses public Wi-Fi, even without this protection almost half of Australians surveyed(44 per cent) confess they would risk their personal data being compromised by connecting to public Wi-Fi if it was more convenient than finding a secured connection.
This is particularly true of the younger generations’ digital natives, who are so at home in the online world that they can be unwilling to take potential risks seriously, with 56 per cent of Gen Z and 53 per cent of Millennials willing to risk compromising their personal data to access public Wi-Fi, compared with just 36 per cent of Boomers and 38 per cent of Gen X.
You know what scares us? The thought of business data floating around on unsecured networks, the dusty cobwebs of old sales presentations sitting on an unprotected virtual drive, and somewhere in the suburbs of outer Sydney an executive sending a confidential email over a "free" Wi-Fi network. Brrr...
Below are some tips Australians can follow to help protect themselves:
- Use a VPN to help ensure your privacy and anonymity are protected when you use public Wi-Fi. A VPN can help encrypt the data that you send and receive while using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, preventing it from being intercepted or tracked.
- Turn off automatic connectivity. Most smartphones, laptops, and tablets have automatic connectivity settings, which allow you to seamlessly connect from one hotspot to the next. This is a convenient feature, but it can also connect your devices to networks you ordinarily would not use. Keep these settings turned off, especially when you’re traveling to unfamiliar places.
- Don't shop online when using public Wi-Fi. Sure, shopping doesn’t seem like it involves sensitive data, but making purchases online requires personal information that could include bank account and retailer login credentials. As a rule, it is best to avoid accessing bank accounts or sensitive personal data on unsecured public networks.
Mark Gorrie is Norton LifeLock’s ANZ Security Expert.
We last updated our list of best VPN providers in early 2018, but a lot has changed since then. Some popular choices have fallen out of favour of late, so we've had a look at what VPN users in Australia are recommending now and which services they have moved from.