Home Cybersecurity Free Wi-Fi, secure or not secure?

Free Wi-Fi, secure or not secure?

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4 min read

Who doesn’t love free Wi-Fi?

With mobile data plans in Canada being some of the most expensive in the world, a business that offers free Wi-Fi to its customers can be an oasis for people who don’t want to break the bank on overage fees or huge, expensive data packages. And for your business, offering free Wi-Fi to your guests can draw customers in, ensure a great experience and build loyalty. Put lightly: offering guest Wi-Fi is a pretty big deal. But it also comes with risks. Supplying guests with Wi-Fi access isn’t as simple as just opening up your network for all to use. Without the proper security measures in place, an uncontrolled open network can be disastrous for your organization. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest risks, what they mean for your business, and steps you can take to protect your business, employees and customers.

Don’t leave your digital doors unlocked

The easier a target you are, the more likely it is someone will try to take advantage of you. You probably wouldn’t leave your business’s doors unlocked when you close up for the night, right? Think about your Wi-Fi network in the same way. A completely open network is open season for anyone looking to exploit it, and that not only puts your business at risk, but also employees and customers (we’ll look at some of those specific risks in more detail next). So step one: make sure your network is password protected. Using a Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) network will mean that your network is encrypted so that it can’t be easily accessed by someone without a password or login. However, keep in mind that a password or guest login alone may not be enough to protect your network, especially if it’s being handed out freely and allows unlimited access to anyone using it.

Beware bandwidth bandits

So what’s the big deal anyway? What can actually go wrong if your network is open, or at least very easily accessible? Let’s start with the less nefarious issues. The most common issue of sharing a network freely is that it’s a huge drain on your bandwidth. With so many people using your network at any given time, it can slow speeds significantly. And if your employees and customers are using the same network, that lag can mean that any work that needs to be done using the Internet will be slowed down. The problem will be even worse if your network is open and unlimited enough for non-customers to use: nearby neighbours or people walking by can get a free ride, taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi with no benefit to your business. Beyond ensuring your network is password protected, another easy fix for bandwidth drain is to use a Wi-Fi solution that keeps your business and guest networks separate.

Be content conscious

Things start to get a bit more serious when you look deeper. If guests use your network to access or upload illegal content, you could be held accountable. Or even if it’s not necessarily illegal, if a customer is viewing inappropriate or offensive material in plain view of other customers who find it disturbing, that’s not a good look for you and your business either. Take control over what can and can’t be accessed on your network by using a managed Wi-Fi solution that restricts access to sites or content that could compromise your business legally, or in reputation.

Sharing isn’t always caring

As a business owner, you have information on your computers and devices that you definitely don’t want just anyone to have access to. Detailed employee information, customer credit card details on POS systems, finance documents… there’s a lot that could be of value to a hacker, and could spell disaster for you. And if you keep all that information on a device that’s connected to the same network that a cybercriminal has access to, a little bit of technical know-how could lead them straight to that information. So add this to the list of reasons you need a separate network for your guests. Your sensitive information goes on one network, and guests on another. As a wise band once said: “You gotta keep ’em separated.”

Mal-where did this come from?

The term “free Wi-Fi” can attract customers, for sure. But it can also attract a different kind of guest: hackers. For cybercriminals, “free Wi-Fi” translates to “lots of targets in one place.” They can use your guest network to drop malware to multiple users all at once. If your customers find out that they picked up malware while using your network, brace yourself for the online review that follows. And even worse, if you share a network with your guests, then your company devices are at risk of picking up a dangerous piece of software as well. So step one: protect yourself and your business. That’s one more for the “separate networks” column. As for protecting your guests, do your best to make your network inconvenient for hackers by blocking peer-to-peer communication between two devices on the same guest network, and ensuring you have strong security measures in place. We recommend using a managed solution that will give you a professionally managed security solution across all your networks.

 You’ve probably noticed a couple of recurring themes throughout this article: first, using a Wi-Fi network that is left totally open for both public and company use comes with a whole buffet of risks. And second, having a managed Wi-Fi solution that includes separate guest access is your business’s best friend when it comes to securing your Wi-Fi network. Free Wi-Fi is good for business, but only when it’s done smart. Once you’ve ticked off all the precautionary boxes, then congratulations: your guest Wi-Fi is open for business.

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