How to protect business data when using shared Wi-Fi

October 9th, 2017 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. AussieBB


Any individual or business, no matter size or industry, is at risk of targeting by cyberattacks. And using a public or shared Wi-Fi network can heighten the risks if the security measures taken are not good enough. Whether you’re a business owner, work in a coworking space that provides Wi-Fi or access public Wi-Fi in airports, you need to know how to safeguard your data.

Risks of public and shared networks

Public and shared Wi-Fi could raise the risk of:

  • File sharing – Data breaches can result from you or your team inadvertently leaving the file sharing setting on, which means anyone with access to the network can view your shared files.
  • Network spoofing – Hackers can set up a network that appears like your office network, and then gain access to your data this way.
  • Network sniffing – Hackers can gain access to data sent over public networks and capture your passwords, browser history, and anything else you send over the network.
  • Malware – Hackers intercepting your network can load malware on your system, which in turn can lead to lost or stolen data.

Hackers can use your Wi-Fi connection to access your business data, intellectual property, and confidential customer files. Breaches such as these can lead to IP theft, compromised market competitiveness, and legal action from customers.

Ways to secure your data

Fortunately you don’t have to avoid public and shared networks altogether – if you take appropriate security measures.

Offer a guest network

Separate your employee network from your guest network by offering visitors and business associates a designated network for guests. This could reduce the risk of unauthorised parties gaining access to your network and data. You can set up a guest network on the same Wi-Fi router as your employee network.

Follow standard security procedures

Ensure everyone in the office follows the standard security procedures. These include keeping the operating system, browser, and other apps up to date. Automatic connections to available Wi-Fi networks should be disabled. If you’re using a public network, make sure you switch to the public network configuration so the file-and-folder-sharing feature is switched off.

In addition, always use a firewall, network activity monitor, and other security software. Change your passwords regularly and use strong passwords. For critical accounts, use two-factor authentication, which requires a password and an additional code for logging in.

Use the recommended security protocol

WPA2 is currently the recommended encryption protocol, so use this one for connecting to Wi-Fi. Other options like WEP and WPA are not as advanced or secure as WPA2, and even the US government trusts WPA2 for top secret data.

You can find an easy guide for how to encrypt your wireless network here.

Lock your router away

Limit who can physically access your router, since anyone with access can change, corrupt, or manipulate your Wi-Fi network. Keep your router locked away in a secure location, and make sure you limit the number of people in your organisation who can access it.

Secure other devices

Keep track of devices your employees use and make sure you account for lost, stolen, or missing devices. Tablets and smartphones configured to access your Wi-Fi network can present another vulnerability point. They can contain critical business and client information. In addition, hackers can gain access to your network through these devices and steal your data.

Always encrypt your business devices and ensure your employees have encryption turned on so the data is secure if the device is lost or stolen. Encryption is offered as standard feature on devices like Windows computers. Check your devices and make sure encryption is switched on if available.

Change the default password of your router

Change the default password on your router (the administration password) when first setting it up. Change it every six months, and always use a strong password. If you use the default password, hackers can easily gain access to your network regardless of other security tools you use.

Follow security procedures at home

Make sure employees follow the same security procedures when working at home. Their home Wi-Fi should be secured in the same ways, so provide them with a guide or policy document listing everything they need to do to stay more secure when working from home.

Use a VPN on public Wi-Fi

If you travel for work or find yourself using public Wi-Fi for work purposes, it’s worth investing in a VPN, or virtual private network. VPNs ensure your data is encrypted while sent from and to the network. With a VPN, it’s as if your devices are directly connect to the VPN, even while you’re on a public Wi-Fi. VPNs are services you pay extra for, so shop around and find a VPN provider with a competitive package.

An additional layer of protection is to use an app that manages what programs can establish a connection from your computer to a network. For example,a program like Little Snitch (for Mac and iPhones) can be set up to allow outgoing connections with only your VPN provider. This acts as a backup – if your VPN crashes, your outgoing connection will stop instead of reverting to the public Wi-Fi.

Use sites that use HTTPS technology

If you’re on a public or shared network, try to use HTTPS sites only. These sites encrypt your data, offering you a highly level of safety when browsing. You can download free browser extensions such as HTTPS Everywhere to make sure you only access these types of sites.

If you must use public Wi-Fi

If you have no choice but to use public Wi-Fi without a VPN, know the risks. Never use it to buy things online with your credit card. Don’t share sensitive information. Make sure you visit only sites that use HTTPS technology, and have an up-to-date antivirus program running. Use two-factor authentication for your web services.

Wi-Fi offers convenience along with fast broadband speeds, but shared Wi-Fi and public connections pose real risks for business data. Along with the standard security protocols such as using the right encryption standards, business users can consider options such as VPNs. Safeguarding your business and customer data is vital for compliance, risk management, and reputation.

Aussie Broadband offers reliable internet for Australian small businesses to give your employees the connection they need to work productively. Get a free quote from our Australian-based team today to discuss how Aussie Broadband services can assist you.