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Accessing public Wi-Fi networks can be as dangerous as it is convenient. People who access a public Wi-Fi network should engage in self-protective behaviors to keep their data safe from malicious actors on the same network as well as persons looking over their shoulder, literally and proverbially. Using two independent research designs, we examined under what circumstances were people more likely to access an unsecured Wi-Fi network and engage in risky behavior on these networks. Findings from the first study, based on survey data, reveal that people who are more situationally aware are less likely to access personal accounts on public Wi-Fi, and more likely to cover their screen to prevent others from viewing personal information. Additionally, findings show that people with higher computer proficiencies are less likely to engage with public Wi-Fi. For the second study, our research team designed and deployed honeypot Wi-Fi networks. We found that people are more likely to access these unsecured, rogue networks in establishments with fewer on-duty employees and that do not offer legitimate public Wi-Fi. Additionally, the number of on-duty employees is associated with an increase in physical security behaviors, such as concealing a screen. We conclude by discussing how these findings can aid in reducing susceptibility to online victimization.


Originally published in:

Maimon, David, C. Jordan Howell, Scott Jacques, and Robert Perkins. 2020. “Situational Awareness and Public Wi-Fi Users’ Self-Protective Behaviors.” CrimRxiv, October.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.