Free Wi-Fi Costs Plenty Without Strong Security Policy

    I love free Wi-Fi. I admit it. I love being able to go to a coffee shop and bum around on my favorite websites. This summer, when I spent July in hotel rooms, free Wi-Fi was my lifeline to work remotely.

    But I use public Wi-Fi knowing the risks, which is why I avoid doing anything that involves sensitive data and I changed a lot of passwords after a month of hotel room Wi-Fi. And I’m also lucky in that I don’t have to worry about accessing the corporate network or anything like that.

    Because I am a user of free Wi-Fi on a semi-regular basis, I was interested in recent research from Private Wi-Fi and the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) that said nearly 80 percent of computer users think that using public Wi-Fi can lead to identity theft. The survey also found that nearly 70 percent of those surveyed stated that they knew a password used to gain Internet access in a public hotspot was not sufficient enough to keep their data secure and 24 percent stated that they made online purchases in a public hotspot.

    I rarely discuss identity theft in this forum because it doesn’t always correlate directly with data security. But in this case, I think it does. All of those issues that leave a user’s personal information vulnerable are also the same security concerns that make corporate data vulnerable when accessed in a public place. The survey found that 57 percent admitted to accessing confidential work-related information while using a public hotspot.

    The folks who conducted the survey believe the way to beat the risks of public Wi-Fi is to use a VPN connection, a method that few have turned to. Rex Davis, director of operations at the ITRC, said in a release:

    Our study revealed that only 27% of respondents use a VPN to protect themselves. While there are various ways to secure your data and identity in a public Wi-Fi hotspot, the most reliable solution that we at the ITRC recommend is a VPN. There is no doubt that Wi-Fi hotspots are vulnerable, and VPN technology offers the greatest level of protection.

    Is VPN an option you provide your employees who regularly access the network from public places? It should be an option that is discussed with employees who use BYOD. And a policy should be in place that focuses on public Wi-Fi and what can and cannot be accessed at those hotspots.

    Sue Poremba
    Sue Poremba
    Sue Poremba is freelance writer based on Central PA. She's been writing about cybersecurity and technology trends since 2008.

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