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French agency warns of danger of public Wifi networks

Data protection agency says too many people put private and sensitive information at risk

The advice comes after a 2017 survey from the online security company Norton Symantec found that 87% of the French public have previously put their private information and sensitive details at risk through connecting to an unsecured Wifi network, whether on a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer, reports French newspaper Le Figaro.

Criminals can easily create false Wifi connection points, or hack into existing networks to collect personal information and bank details, the CNIL warns.

It advises that when using networks outside of the home, the public should not try to connect to unknown networks or those that do not require a password.

When in a restaurant or a coffee shop, the name of the network and the password needed should be double-checked with the shop owner, in order to avoid those posing as respectable connections, to which criminals may have given a deliberately similar name to the legitimate network in order to trick users.

Any network that demands your personal information before connection should be given the bare minimum, CNIL says, and should not be given your main email address as identification, as this can leave you open to junk mail and other unwanted emails at your main address.

Users are advised to create a separate, free email account for precisely this situation, so no marketing messages or junk will end up in your main or professional account.

Users are also advised to avoid using public Wifi networks when accessing personal information such as bank details, and instead if possible to either drop back onto the 3G/4G network, use a VPN - a virtual private network, which effectively hides your computer’s details from the web - or wait until you get home.

Similarly, smartphone users are warned to turn off the “connect to Wifi automatically” function when out in public, to avoid your phone constantly seeking networks, which could make it vulnerable to those looking to collect data.

The CNIL also advises people to consistently back up and update their devices, to ensure they are running as securely and as up-to-date as possible.

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