What is a risky place for a device?
The primary risk factor when it comes to your location is the use of public Wi-Fi. If you use hotspots in malls, for example, or in trains and train stations, your data could be exposed to bad actors.
Public Wi-Fi locations can be dangerous for two reasons. First, the routers used for these networks might not be adequately protected from cyberattacks. You have no way of checking how safe a network is before you connect to it. If a hacker has already compromised the network, they could monitor your activity in real time.
Second, hackers sometimes set up networks themselves in public spaces, hoping that people will connect to them. They might even name their network to associate it with a nearby business. Once you connect, they can infect your device with malware or steal your data.
NordVPN surveyed internet users around the world to find out how many people in each country are putting themselves at risk in this way.
What does the data show?
NordVPN surveyed internet users across ten countries: the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Germany, and Poland. What did the data reveal?
Mobile data vs. public Wi-FI
First, the good news. In all ten countries, the majority of respondents said they used their mobile data more than public Wi-Fi. While that doesn’t mean they can avoid online risks entirely, it does improve overall security.
Canadian respondents led the pack when it came to public Wi-Fi use, with a sizeable 43% reporting that they used public Wi-Fi and 60% (the lowest percentage across all countries surveyed) using mobile data when in public areas. Coming close behind was the UK, where 41% of those surveyed said they used public Wi-Fi.
At the other end of the spectrum was Poland, in which only 17% of respondents said they used public Wi-Fi and 80% relied on mobile data instead.
Of course, public Wi-Fi use in itself isn’t inherently bad, but unless users are taking suitable precautions, they are exposing themselves to high risk levels by regularly relying on these networks.
Where do people feel most at risk?
The survey also asked users where they thought they were most at risk when connecting to the internet. For all 10 countries, the most common answers here were shopping malls, public transport, and hospitality locations like cafes, restaurants, and bars.
Users in Canada and Spain were the most concerned about shopping malls, coming in at 57% and 56% respectively, but shopping malls scored consistently high across most regions. Some large variations emerged between countries in other areas, however. For example, 56% of German respondents said they thought public event venues were the riskiest locations, while only 33% of Italians said the same.
The reality is that most locations where users connect to public Wi-Fi can pose risks. While that might not be an issue if all of those internet users were taking proper cybersecurity precautions, the data suggests that they aren’t.
Are people protecting themselves in unsafe locations?
NordVPN’s survey also assessed the steps people were taking in each country to keep themselves safe while using public Wi-Fi.
The worst news came from Sweden, where 23% of those surveyed said they did not take any steps to protect their devices when on public Wi-Fi networks. That number was lower in other countries (11% in both the US and the UK) but still worrying.
A minority of people surveyed in all 10 countries reported using a VPN despite VPNs being one of the most effective methods for accessing public networks safely. Australia led in this area, with 29% of respondents saying they used a VPN to encrypt their traffic when on networks in public spaces.
While higher numbers overall reported the use of antivirus software, VPNs remain a very effective way to combat the threats of unsafe networks. An increase in VPN use would lower the risks faced by many internet users.
How to stay safe in high-risk areas
The simplest way to avoid online threats in risky areas like event venues, malls, and restaurants is just to use mobile data. The primary threat in these locations comes from unsafe public Wi-Fi, so you will always be at less risk if you don’t use these networks. Some survey respondents have taken that principle to the extreme, avoiding internet use of any kind in public spaces, but in all countries these people formed a relatively small minority.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you have to use public Wi-Fi — a location in which you don’t have mobile data, for example — a VPN (virtual private network) can help. Once you have installed a VPN app on your device and turned it on, an encrypted tunnel forms between your device and a VPN server. Now, any data traveling between you and the server is encrypted.
Your browsing traffic may still be running through an unsafe network, but it will now do so in its encrypted form. If a hacker spies on your data, all they will be able to view is scrambled gibberish.
NordVPN also includes Threat Protection, a powerful feature that blocks ads, shields you from trackers, and scans downloads for potential malware. If you find yourself using public Wi-Fi in an unsafe location, stay secure with NordVPN.