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Your Local Café Filters Coffee but Probably Not Wi-Fi ;  Why Secure Wi-Fi is Crucial!

Posted by Geraldine Hunt on Thu, Oct 1st, 2015

Free Wi-Fi  at hotels has become as expected as hot water. We have an expectation of free Wi-Fi in lots of places including restaurants , coffee shops and airports. We’re all familiar with the sight of the remote worker plugged in at the local coffee shop. But,do we have an expectation of secure Wi-Fi? The convenience that free public Wi-Fi  affords users is hard to ignore. However with this convenience comes serious threats. 

Open Wi-Fi  networks

Wi-Fi networks can either be open or secured. An open Wi-Fi  network requires no form of authorization or authentication. Any user with a device supporting Wi-Fi  can access them and use the connectivity offered by the network. Regardless of why these networks are open, they present security risks for the user and ultimately the provider. Any malicious actor connected to an open Wi-Fi  network, can see and intercept most of the data sent on that network, as that data is simply sent unencrypted. Anyone inspecting the traffic can see the data.

Secure Wi-Fi  

A secure Wi-Fi  network is a network using encryption. Secure Wi-Fi  networks are networks that require a user to identify itself to the network, either via a password, pass-phrase or some sort of token. A user will not be able to connect to the network without those. Those networks are considered secure because they use encryption, meaning that data exchanged on those networks is protected by encryption. For truly secure Wi-Fi  the provider of the service should also have in place some content filtering so that visitors can’t access dangerous or inappropriate sites.

Why only using secure Wi-Fi  is important.

Any (non-technical) user of an open Wi-Fi  network has no way of knowing who else is using that network and what exactly they are doing with the access they are offered. What that means is that for most users, what they care about when using a Wi-Fi   network is whether they can Skype, browse the web or read their emails. Beyond that, they don't really care about the details. It is easy to see why that is a dangerous situation. They have no control or guarantees about who can see or modify their data, whether it’s their documents on Google Drive or their private banking or business communications. Also a user has no way of knowing that the website they are visiting is safe – normally legitimate regularly visited site can become infected too!

The risks of offering insecure Wi-Fi 

Setting up a secure Wi-Fi network requires no more work for a system administrator than setting up an open WI-FI network. Technology has progressed so much in these last few years that any competent system administrator will have no problem picking the secure options. Offering open WI-FI should never be one of the options, it’s simply not worth the risk. An open WI-FI  network no matter how well it is segregated from the other networks of a company, will at some point be used as a beach-front to attack those other networks.

Open unfiltered Wi-Fi  is an invitation to attack

An open unfiltered Wi-Fi  network is an invitation to attack your users, data, privacy and data integrity. A successful attack could result in: 
•    Total loss of customer data privacy
•    Total loss of customer data integrity
•    Total loss of data customer confidentiality
•    In some parts of the world, it's illegal to not protect your customers' data
•    The company networks can be attacked by anyone using that network
•    Serious brand reputation and resulting costs and implications
•    Potential litigation

Any Wi-Fi  network should be properly secured and filtered. For premises offering free public Wi-Fi – do you want your guest to consume internet porn on your premises?  Do you want your Wi-Fi users going to malware laden sites that would most likely damage your network?

Notes on passwords and pass-phrases

It is recommended to use sufficiently complex passwords or pass-phrases and the same rules that apply to creating secure passwords or pass-phrases should be applied for Wi-Fi  access passwords.
•    Do not use dictionary words.
•    Do not use common expressions and phrases.
•    Do not use common-words to which you've appended numbers.
•    Do not use common words where specific characters have been replaced by others.
You’ll find more on good password management here

What can Wi-Fi  providers do?

Public Wi-Fi  comes with the risk that consumers can potentially access dangerous websites or websites where the content is not family friendly. WebTitan W-Fi is a convenient filtering system  which blocks access to these sites.

Why filtered Wi-Fi access is a Win-Win!

As more and more hotel, fast-food chains and coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi  we  are seeing an increase in the numbers deciding to filter and secure that traffic.  Filtered Wi-Fi  access is a win-win situation for both companies and the general public. Businesses are competing in a difficult environment as price conscious consume

rs look for value. For smart businesses offering free Wi-Fi   is an opportunity to attract potential customers and retain existing customers. For these organizations offering secure Wi-Fi  can also be a differentiator….something to think about!                                                                  

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