A survey by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has found that almost half of home WiFi users do not understand their security settings.
It said that despite most internet service providers (ISPs) now setting up and installing their customers' WiFi security settings for them, 40 per cent do not understand them, while 16 per cent were either unsure or are already aware that they are using an unsecured network.
Steve Wood, head of policy at the ICO, said: “People wouldn't go out and leave their front door unlocked, but many are still surfing the internet without adequate protection for their personal information.
“The fact that Google's Street View cars were able to pick up payload data from unsecured WiFi networks as a by-product of their signals mapping exercise has further highlighted that more people need to take their WiFi security settings seriously.
“Leaving your WiFi connection unsecured allows people easy access to your network. This increase in traffic could reduce the speed of your connection or cause you to exceed a data cap imposed by the service provider. However even more worryingly, it also leaves you open to the actions of rogue individuals who may be using your WiFi to carry out potentially criminal actions without your knowledge.”
Chris Davies, general manager for D-Link UK and Ireland, said: “Securing wireless networks is paramount, but these statistics show that people are still falling short. There is no doubt that in the past setting up security on wireless networks could be tricky, but this is no longer the case with most wireless products.
“Security can be set up in a couple of minutes using setup wizards, with no prior technical knowledge required. We've also been working with the ISPs to help them ship products to consumers with security pre-configured. Most modern routers today also have WPS (WiFi Protected Setup) buttons where wireless security is set up at the touch of a button.”
Jason Hart, CEO of CryptoCard and a white hat hacker who has conducted several experiments on unsecure WiFi connectivity, said that the survey findings were consistent with things he has found, as it comes down to people using encryption and not understanding the tools.
He said: “I think security is often a last consideration and information security is not as high as it should be. The ICO says it is 40 per cent but I would say it is even greater, as it is a myth that if you have a secure password, no matter how complicated it is, there is always a way of getting to it. You will always have a problem until the problem is solved."
The ICO has issued new guidance on how to check the security settings of your WiFi router, with information on how to make the network more secure, including setting up a strong password to stop other people accessing the network and making sure the information sent over the device is encrypted.
The ICO has also called on ISPs, retailers and manufacturers to make sure the guidance supplied with their WiFi equipment is clear to the end-user and fully explains the risks of people using an unsecured connection.