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Banking, Porn and Pokémon Go: Republican Convention Attendees Sloppy With Wi-Fi Security

Amid the furore of Donald Trump’s nomination as Republican presidential nomination, plagiarized speeches, and non-endorsements, attendees at the Republican National Convention could be forgiven for being a bit careless when it comes to connecting to public Wi-Fi.

That’s what security firm Avast discovered when it carried out an experiment at the Quicken Loans Arena and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Overall it found that many users were negligent when connecting to public Wi-Fi by ignoring standard security practices, leaving themselves open to having their personal information exposed and increasing the likelihood of hackers gaining access to emails or other sensitive data.

Avast set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots at both locations, with common names such as “Google Starbucks," "Xfinitywifi," "Attwifi," as well as event-specific names like “I vote Trump! free Internet" and "I vote Hillary! free Internet." With those last two choices, the vast majority (70%) unsurprisingly decided to connect to the Trump network.

None of the fake Wi-Fi networks required a password to connect to, which while convenient for people wishing to quickly check their email or Facebook page, can leave traffic open to interception.

During the course of the day, Avast recorded 1,200 users transferring 1.6GBs of data. The company said 68.3% of users exposed their identity when they were connected, and 44.5% checked their email or used messenger apps. Both of these risks exposing sensitive data.

A small number (6.5%) shopped online when connected to the fake Wi-Fi networks and 1.2% accessed a banking app or website.

Some attendees at the event clearly got bored with all the politics: 0.7% used dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, Match and Meetup, and 0.24% visited pornographic websites. Pokémon Go, the hottest mobile game around at the moment, was also a big draw at the Convention, with 5.1% of users playing.

"With Washington heatedly discussing cybersecurity issues virtually every week, we thought it would be interesting to test how many people actually practice secure habits," said Gagan Singh, president of mobile at Avast.

"Understanding the talking points behind these privacy issues is very different from implementing secure habits on a daily basis. Though it is not surprising to see how many people connect to free Wi-Fi, especially in a location with large crowds such as this, it is important to know how to stay safe when connecting,” Singh added.

“When joining public Wi-Fi, consumers should utilize a VPN service that anonymizes their data while connecting to public hotspots to ensure that their connection is secure,” Singh concluded.

Avast carried out a similar test at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, with similarly worrying results.

Photo © themorningglory

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