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Get Safe Online is warning the public and businesses to be cautious when accessing or supplying private data when connected to public Wi-Fi hotspots – particularly sensitive information relating to bank accounts, payments and other personal data.

The UK now has over 300,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots, with more people than ever before potentially becoming the target of cyber criminals, simply because they don’t know how secure the wireless networks they’re using actually are.

The advice given by Get Safe Online relates to Wi-Fi networks that are commonly found in public places like cafes, hotel rooms, airports, and pubs.

It warns that if not fully secure, these networks have the potential to be hijacked by cyber criminals who will seize the opportunity to defraud individuals or steal their identity – or  both.

In addition, it also reports, cyber criminals have been known to set up fake hotspots on their own laptops in public places and fool members of the public into logging onto them.

Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, says: “The UK has well over 300,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots in place – situated in many of the places we love to visit whether that be a high street shopping centre, hotel or restaurant. The very fact that we have all of these hotspots goes to show that we are a very connected nation.

“However, although public Wi-Fi offers us great convenience, it can also present a number of dangers – especially as many of us are unaware of the actual security of the hotspots we use on a regular basis.

“Although they may seem safe when logging in and even sometimes request a code, individuals could soon find themselves the victims of cyber crime.

“Although it may sound like the stuff of a spy thriller, cyber criminals can easily hijack public networks in order to steal our money and our most personal data – in some extreme cases, even our identity.

“Our advice is not to use public networks if you are looking to browse confidential information; are about to log into an account (like an online bank account); or are about to make a payment of some sort.

“Doing so on a public network comes with huge risk – particularly if you have no way of knowing how secure the network you’re using is.”

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