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Written by Solène Gabellec
on November 25, 2019

Work from home policies are becoming increasingly common for all kinds of businesses. There are quite a few benefits to allowing employees to work from home. For example, as noted in an article on Forbes, remote work policies help to reduce costs while increasing productivity, providing access to a larger talent pool, and improving alignment with employee needs.

However, as convenient and useful as these remote work policies can be, there are some potential internet security issues that are associated with these policies. One of the biggest issues is the use of public wifi networks by employees. What are the dangers of public wifi? How can you curtail public wifi dangers? What should your business know about using public wifi networks?

Here, we’ll talk about some of the most common issues involved in using unsecured public wifi networks, and some ways you can proactively guard against them so your risks are minimized:

What Are the Dangers of Public Wifi

Over the last two decades, the internet has become an indispensable part of business operations. From cloud-based collaboration apps, to file sharing tools, to online productivity apps, businesses rely heavily on the availability of the internet to get work done in a fast and efficient manner.

When employees are working remotely, they may not necessarily be working from home (where they can use their personal wireless internet). Instead, they may be working from a coffee shop, restaurant, bookstore, mall, or some other public location that provides free wifi access. This public wifi tends to lack the security of the employee’s home wifi (or the company’s password-protected secure wifi) network.

Additionally, when working with public wifi, your employees are sharing that connection with, well, everybody in the vicinity. The public nature of these wireless access points makes it so that virtually anybody in the area can tap into it. This could create an opportunity for others to hijack communications or spread malicious software.

Types of Public Wifi Attacks

What are the specific types of attacks that can befall users of public wifi connections? Some common examples of public wifi attacks include:

  • Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks. A man-in-the-middle attack is a term for when an attacker intercepts communications between a device and a wireless access point. Using this attack method, criminals can intercept data for their personal use, including passwords, data files, and business communications. This information can be used for further attacks.
  • Malware Attacks. Criminals can use unsecured public wifi networks to spread malware to other devices that connect to the wireless access point. This can be a fast way to compromise many devices. If the infected device is used for both remote and in-office work, the malware could be spread to the business network as well.
  • Ad Hoc Network Attacks. If the device being used to connect to the wifi network isn’t secure, attackers could take advantage of their proximity to create an “ad hoc” network which directly connects their device to the employee’s device. This can be used to steal data, spread malware, or set up extraneous “super user” accounts with unlimited privileges on the device without the user’s knowledge.

Within these attacks, there are many variations on specific strategies, but these examples cover the basics.

How to Avoid the Dangers of Public Wifi

Now that you know about public wifi attacks, what can you do to stop them? There are many ways for a company to circumvent public wifi dangers. Here are a few examples of things you can do:

  • Enforce the Use of VPN for Business. One way to reduce risk on public wifi networks is to use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt and anonymize employee traffic. A VPN for business service is an easy and efficient way to increase internet security in general. This may not stop all public wifi attack methods that intercept communications between a device and the wireless access point, but the encryption helps to protect your data.
  • Make Sure Devices Are Set to Decline New Connections. In the system settings for most portable devices, there is a setting to automatically allow or decline new connections from other devices. This should be set to automatically decline unless the user specifically allows the connection. Even then, employees should be asked to exercise caution when connecting to new or unsecured wifi networks.
  • Avoid Public Wifi with LTE or Personal Hotspot Connections. Another alternative that can help avoid the dangers of public wifi is using an alternative method of internet connectivity. LTE connections use cell phone towers to connect to the internet instead of wifi routers. This helps to circumvent the risks of unsecured wifi connections. However, it can be expensive to acquire and maintain LTE-capable laptops, tablets, and other devices. Smartphones and mobile hotspots can be used to avoid wifi networks as well—though there are hard limits on hotspot data with most carriers.
  • Ensure that All Devices Have Basic Cyber Security Tools. Remote workers should use devices that have at least the basic cyber security measures installed—such as firewalls and antivirus/antimalware. While this won’t prevent all attacks, it will block the most basic ones and reduce the odds of an employee’s device becoming compromised.
  • Provide Training Regarding Public Wifi Dangers. An uninformed employee is more likely to fall victim to any given cyberattack strategy—whether it’s because they’re purposefully circumventing internet security protocols or simply making honest mistakes. Cyber security training that emphasizes the dangers of unsecured wifi networks will help your employees realize the importance of using secure wifi and following internet security guidelines. Such training should also outline the consequences of failing to follow security protocols.

One final tool that you can use to protect your business from devices that have been compromised would be a behavioral analysis solution. This type of tool analyzes the behaviors of different users and devices to establish their general use patterns. Typically, a compromised device or user account will deviate from this pattern in some way—such as by requesting access to sensitive databases that they have no business accessing.

By detecting abnormal user and device behaviors early, you have an opportunity to stop a cyberattack before it can become a business-crippling issue. Need help with your early detection so you can protect your business? Try out Knogin’s CyberEasy for Business solution now.

It only takes five minutes to get started on protecting your business from cyber threats.

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