A new survey commissioned by has found that the majority of UK Wi-Fi users are needlessly exposed to the risk of data and identity theft because they don't understand the risks involved in sending important data via a Wi-Fi hotspot.

According to the survey by Steganos, 86% of Wi-Fi users surveyed said they knew there was a risk, however only 22% use any form of encryption to protect it.

Thirty seven per cent of Wi-Fi users surveyed said they have used networks belonging to unknown businesses and residents nearby, exposing themselves to the risk that their data could be intercepted by the operators of those hotspots.

The survey revealed that although many users are aware of the threats that their PC is exposed to when connected to the Internet, they are less aware of the risk that their data is exposed to as it travels through Wi-Fi hotspots. While 77% of respondents used antivirus software and 72% used a firewall, only 8% encrypted their data and only 14% used a secure, encrypted link to the Internet.

The vast majority of Wi-Fi users know they're being reckless: only 14% were unaware that somebody could intercept their data while they are connected via Wi-Fi.

About half (51%) of those surveyed use Wi-Fi hotspots several times a week, with 15% using them weekly, 20% using them every couple of weeks and 14% using them monthly.

The most popular use of hotspots was to send personal emails (75% of those surveyed), followed by work emails (51%), general research and connecting to the company network (37%). Sensitive data is often sent via Wi-Fi, as indicated by the 28% of users who said they engage in internet banking and the 23% who shop online via Wi-Fi. A quarter of those surveyed update their blogs or personal websites from Wi-Fi hotspots.