AS THE Soccer World Cup kicks off in Brazil on Thursday, software security experts have warned travellers to be vigilant of cyber-crime activities when they use free Wi-Fi networks in public areas.

The use of Wi-Fi is growing worldwide, including in SA. It is so indispensable that free access to Wi-Fi influences travellers’ choice of hotel.

Data roaming charges for cellphones are generally very expensive, making Wi-Fi the most attractive means of being connected. According to software security group Kaspersky, many travellers to the World Cup in Brazil will use free Wi-Fi access points, and probably not give much thought to security.

The company has warned that this is a "very risky approach", as all the data that is sent or received on open Wi-Fi networks can be intercepted. Moreover, passwords, PINs and other sensitive data could also fall into the hands of cyber criminals if public charging stations are used — in Brazil, these publicly available chargers may be malicious.

Kaspersky Lab’s head of the global research and analysis team in Latin America, Dmitry Bestuzhev, said "malicious AC/DC charging points are a real danger for those travelling to big events and new destinations".

"Cybercriminals know that when people are away from home and need their smartphones to access maps, routes and other information, they tend to use any available charger, even if it’s just for a few minutes," he said.

IT firm Fortinet said fans who would not have the chance to watch the matches at stadiums would probably use the internet to view the results in real time, by connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots at hotels or bars. These unsecured hot spots allow hackers to capture any and all data flowing from the hot spot, enabling them to intercept log-ins and passwords, e-mail messages, attached documents and other personal and confidential information, the firm said.

Kaspersky Lab security experts conducted research into Wi-Fi access in São Paulo.

They clocked up 100km in and around the city and checked out more than 5,000 access points popular among tourists, including in parks, malls, airports and other attractions.

The study found that 26% of the 5,000 open Wi-Fi networks in São Paulo did not use any encryption, Kaspersky said.