Another of our regular polls has produced some interesting results, and attracted over 1,500 responses from the visitors to thinkbroadband. Of course not all visitors will be the average internet user, but even so, the results of this poll are very interesting.
Looking at how many people use the provider-supplied email service, reveals that a massive two-thirds do not. The reasons for this will be very varied but from our experiences on our forums, after people have switched broadband provider once or twice, they learn that changing email address is troublesome, so many will opt for services like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and the myriad of other web based services. One recommendation often made to users, especially sole traders and small businesses is to acquire their own domain name and mail hosting provider as this is quite cheap these days and helps to provide a more professional appearance.
Encryption of email is back in the public consciousness from the reports of the new survelliance law that may be in the Queen’s Speech, that will build on the previous RIPA survelliance giving bodies like GCHQ access to live feeds of data from providers, rather than the retrospective logs that RIPA generally gives. The result is somewhat surprising and suggests more that users connect to their e-mail provider using a secure connection, but it is important to note that this doesn’t encrypt the information which the current government is looking to get access to—namely who is communicating with whom and at what times; this is still usually sent unencrypted between mail servers, and consumers are unlikely to have control over it. It is therefore important to recognise that the above adoption of encryption would not in its current form be sufficient to protect your data, unless both e-mail servers were based outside the U.K.
We were quite surprised by these results with 43% of respondents claiming not to use public Wi-Fi. This may be due to the widespread adoption of 3G with more favourable data usage allowances, although free Wi-Fi is still a safe bet in cost terms for anyone going abroad where 3G data charges can be quite significant.
Most Wi-Fi hotspots run without any encryption at all, so security is important. Major websites such as Google and Facebook will require you to login via an HTTPS page, but many others do not require or support it, and our own thinkbroadband site is a case in point. There is an increasing awareness of problems associated with unencrypted networks, but there is still quite some way to go before you can be certain that your web browsing at the local coffee shop is actually secure. Most non-business users simply have not considered a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service important.
Of course someone knowing you are browsing the Amazon website to check the price of something you saw on sale at what looked to be a great price is one thing, but without you may find that you give a lot more information away to people as many online shops only encrypt their credit card and login pages.
Some hotspot providers do provide a secure VPN option (e.g. BT Openzone offer a free Cisco VPN option for hotspot users). If your company has people who travel regularly and use hotspots then perhaps running a VPN over the company broadband connection is something that should be investigated, although we would urge companies to ensure they get technical advice before setting up a system that may in itself open up more security problems.