Monday, May 20, 2024

How Secure is your Coffee Office in Reality?

July 25, 2014

With Wi-Fi hotspots in restaurants, bars, cafes and airports, we have more freedom to work on the go than ever before. But how safe is it to send sensitive data over such networks? Maybe it’s time to consider 4G as an alternative.

Before the advent of 4G, there was little choice for mobile workers who needed to transfer large chunks of data. Public Wi-Fi hotspots were the only option. The speed of phone networks simply couldn’t hack it (pun intended!) when it came to receiving or sending large files.

But the risks in using public Wi-Fi hotspots are huge. For people who work in coffee shops, sometimes referred to as “coffices”, privacy and security hardly exist. An organization and its clients’ data are wide open to compromise. You (and the coffee shop owner) may think your Wi-Fi connection’s security is sound, but a teenaged hacker in the upstairs apartment might be nonchalantly siphoning off your data.

Well, the good news is, this is now a thing of the past. 4G affords download speeds up to 60 Mb per second. This is considerably faster than you are likely to get in a public Wi-Fi hotspot, particularly at peak times when many people are sharing the bandwidth.

4G also has more robust security than public Wi-Fi, especially when used in conjunction with an EE security solution to protect data over the network and on the end-user device.

If you’re working anywhere in public, of course, either in a Hi-Fi hotspot or via 4G, you always have to be careful that no-one is watching your screen over your shoulder. But 4G has much more effective built-in security than Wi-Fi.

Europol, an EU law enforcement agency, advises that people should avoid receiving or sending sensitive information via public Wi-Fi because of the inherent risk of interception by hackers.

In fact, there are opportunities galore for hackers, just walking down a street, exploiting the multitude of public Wi-Fi networks. You could be hacked by somebody sitting in a cafe across the road, or in a car in a nearby car park – the range of a typical Wi-Fi router is 100 meters. There are tools available such as Firesheep, which make it relatively straightforward to hack other people’s browsing sessions over Wi-Fi. With more sophisticated tools, for instance Wireshark, traffic can be captured and analyzed.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance commissioned a report which showed there were 1.3 million Wi-Fi hotspots globally, expected to rise to 5.8 million by 2015. Combine this with the fact that more and more workers are required to be mobile handling a large amount of data, and there is the potential for a serious security compromise.

Cyber criminals often set up rogue hotspots, with names such as “Free Wi-Fi Connection”, to trick people into connecting to what they think are kosher hotspots. It’s obviously very easy for the criminals to steal information once you are connected. Even large companies are vulnerable to this kind of deception. Of course, viruses can also be spread quickly and easily via Wi-Fi.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? Connecting via a Virtual Private Network is a good starting point. You can also check with the coffee shop owner that the hotspot you are about to use is genuine.

But the best option is to roll out 4G phones and make sure your staff use the phone’s data package rather than connect via public Wi-Fi, when on the move.

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