Hotspot of bother? The perils of free WiFi and why everybody needs to be wary

Lawrence Jones

Thursday 20 November 2014

Should your business offer guests and visitors a WiFi connection? As our world becomes more and more connected, refusing to share your internet access or create a hotspot is more than just impolite, it can be bad for business.

As the world embraces the increasing portability of tablets and other mobile devices, such as smartphones and hybrids, the offering of an internet connection is an essential, if not critical, component for your business. Experts forecast that next year will see 2.3 billion mobile devices shipped around the world. The world is becoming mobile and each person now expects to be connected whatever the time and wherever they are.

And it’s not just devices that need connectivity. There are a host of online tools and services that demand online access: cloud storage, web-based presentation and accounting software, to name but a few.

Secure enough?

Security has always been a concern, and it’s a question of where the risk lies. Networks themselves use a variety of standards, from the notoriously weak WEP to the more robust – but still far from impenetrable – WPA2. In reality though, neither will offer much protection from the prying eyes of a committed and skilled individual.

If you’re worried about data security you can learn a lot from the NHS. The NHS deals with patient information and legally must uphold the highest levels of data security – yet it still offers WiFi access in most buildings to staff and visitors.

It secures its own information through a complex and robust VPN system with SSL encryption to protect important data and assumes – rightly or wrongly – that those using its WiFi connection will look after themselves.

Customer satisfaction

If your business involves interacting with customers at your own office, offering them access to your WiFi network should be as natural as offering them a cup of tea. Creating a guest network used exclusively by non-permanent office visitors could be the way to go. As long as they’re not live-streaming sporting events, or using your connection to download large files, it’s not going to make a noticeable impact on your usage. And even then you could cap the guest network’s bandwidth so that anything other than checking emails becomes too prohibitive. Or simply restrict access to certain sites? Many large organisations do so already for their own staff.

In the end, the Christian maxim of treating others as we would wish to be treated is as applicable in the physical and virtual worlds. But, first and foremost, it’s about business. If you want to be a progressive and modern enterprise, then offering connectivity on your premises to visitors should be part of your own WiFi network plan.