Two out of five UK home users don't have a clue about how to change the security settings of their home wireless network.
The 21st century equivalent of a failure in understanding how to program home video recorders was exposed in a survey commissioned by privacy watchdogs at the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).
The online survey of around 2,000 British adults, carried out by YouGov earlier this month, also found that 16 per cent of users were unable to say whether or not they were running security on their home Wi-Fi network.
The commissioner's office then advised the public to make sure they had switched on passwords to protect their home Wi-Fi networks.
The ICO is calling for ISPs and equipment manufacturers to provide clearer instructions on how to make home wireless systems more secure, alongside clear arguments on why running insecure connections open up people to privacy and potentially legal liability risks.
In the meantime, the ICO has published its own guidance on security home networks. This is after the privacy watchdog realised it had no existing guidelines on password-protecting Wi-Fi networks.*
While welcoming the survey, one leading home wireless equipment manufacturer said that security settings may have been too complicated in the past but have reached the point of being more or less idiot-proof. Chris Davies, general manager for D-Link UK & Ireland argued that security settings on home networking kit have simplified over the years towards the point where there's no real excuse for getting it wrong.
"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," Davies said.
Security on home wireless kit from the likes of D-Link and Linksys can be set up in a matter of minutes, using built-in software wizards. No prior technical knowledge is required.
D-Link is co-operating with internet service providers in a bid to make sure that security settings come pre-configured on equipment, thereby making it as easy as possible for even the technically inexperienced to set up home networks. "Most modern routers today also have WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Set-up) buttons where wireless security is set up at the touch of a button," Davies added. ®
The ICO did clear Google's mass collection of unsecured UK Wi-Fi data and Mac addresses by its fleet of Street View cars. Just three months later, after lengthy criticism, the ICO changed its mind and decided Google had breached the Data Protection Act – after which the watchdog got Google to sign a piece of paper promising not to break data laws again.