On first glance, it appears the free Wi-Fi available in hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and even shopping malls is a boon to you and your employees. It gives you all the opportunity to access your network and be more productive from anywhere.
Unfortunately, this convenience and extra productivity aren’t really “free” because they pose such a big risk to your business and to the employees themselves.
Wi-Fi that is so easily accessed by you or your staff is also easily accessed by hackers.
Free Wi-Fi leaves your business open to multiple threats.
- Loss of sensitive business information
In a free Wi-Fi environment, hackers can directly access your network and all your sensitive business information. Free Wi-Fi doesn’t require any authentication to establish a network connection. Any device using the free Wi-Fi is unsecured and completely accessible by hackers. In any Wi-Fi hotspot, for example, a hacker can put his device between your employee’s device and your network so all the information being sent to your network goes directly to the hacker.
- Identity theft
Depending on your type of business, hackers could access such personal information as customer credit cards, financial communications, and Social Security numbers. Losing customer data is a serious breach of state and federal privacy laws.
Wi-Fi that is not secure makes it possible for hackers to plant infected software into your system. If your network allows file sharing, a hacker can not only plant malware on your computer but actually hack the connection point itself. In this scenario, a pop-up window would appear during the connection process offering an upgrade to a piece of popular software. If you or your employee click on the upgrade, it installs the malware.
How you can make your network safer in free Wi-Fi environments?
As it is with all thieves, hackers go after the easiest targets. With many simultaneous users in a Wi-Fi hotspot, those with the least security are the ones most likely to be attacked. By creating a more secured connection using a virtual private network (VPN), you can help keep your business from being that easy target.
Here are some steps you can take to make it more secure for your employees who may use free Wi-Fi from time to time. You can call on your telecom provider to help you with one or more of these security measures:
- Put strong Internet security on your portable devices: It’s pretty difficult to conduct business these days without accessing or sending information over the Internet. It’s important that you have robust virus and other security solutions installed on all the devices you and your employees use to access the Internet. You want solutions that continuously scan for malware and that scan incoming emails and attachments.
- Create a VPN: A virtual private network (VPN) connection adds strong encryption to data being shared across your network. Even if a hacker manages to position himself between your employee’s computer and your network, the data would require a lengthy decryption process to be readable. Most hackers won’t waste their time doing this.
- Use HTTPS when logging onto Internet sites: Employees conducting general Internet searches and logging into specific sites can encrypt their communications. To do this, instruct them to choose the “Always Use HTTPS” option on Websites that require a password login. Also be sure to educate your staff on not using the same username and password for all sites they log into. They should never use the same password for logging into, say, an entertainment site as they do for logging into their bank — or onto your business network. Most Websites that require an account or credentials have the “HTTPS” option somewhere in their settings.
- Turn off sharing: When in a public Wi-Fi situation, you and your employees should turn off sharing. Depending on the operating system you use, this can be done from the Control Panel or in the System Preferences. If you’re using Windows, you can choose “Public” when you connect to the unsecured network and it will turn off sharing automatically.
- Turn Wi-Fi off whenever you don’t need an Internet connection: When you’re not actively connected to a network, the Wi-Fi in your computer may still transmit data using any network within its Wi-Fi range. By turning Wi-Fi off entirely, you can not only reduce wear on your computer’s battery, but make it impossible for hackers to stick their nose in your business.
The more steps you take to secure and encrypt your business data, the less chance you have of being hacked — even when you need to use free Wi-Fi.