For Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, security is a major concern. Oerting made a point to express his concerns to the BBC that public Internet hotspots are being used more frequently by cyber criminals. He also warned Wi-Fi users that everything sent via Wi-Fi is potentially at risk, citing a rise in the misuse of public connections. Hackers are stealing data, identities and passwords to eventually steal money from users. Users log in at their local coffee shops, thinking they are safe. Oerting even mentioned that a security researcher was once breached using the European Parliament's public wireless network.
Many wireless routers at homes and businesses have WPA/WP2 and enterprise-grade encryption, which makes it difficult to steal data. However, hackers can easily deploy "sniffing" tactics by maliciously tapping into networks that are unsecured in the public realm. Oerting further notes that hackers can set up fake wireless connections as well — and customers are none the wiser.
Cyber crime is a big threat to a midsize firm's productivity and even its ultimate survival. Europol's warnings parallel what IT professionals at midsize firms typically advise their employees: Important transactions and sensitive data transfers should not be made over Wi-Fi connections. Some midsize companies have not warned their staff about Wi-Fi security risks. In an age of growing cyber threats and surging BYOD policies, adequate guidelines are necessary to keep corporate data safe; the more employees are educated, the better.
Through BYOD policies, IT professionals often find out about the mobile device usage patterns that employees follow — for example, whether they access the Web on unsecured networks. A virtual private network (VPN) is one tool that enables a device to send and receive encrypted data over Wi-Fi networks. Proxies are another tool that act as gateways between a local network and the Internet. Proxies may also have the ability to monitor employee use of outside resources, offering increased security.
Free Wi-Fi is a great service, but there are great risks. Companies and their employees who are aware of security challenges can play a part in keeping corporate data safe. BYOD presents a challenge today, which is why experienced vendors are working with IT professionals to meet every security demand and need. Common sense and action are necessary because complacency can put data at risk and harm a growing business.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.