Ashville NC IT Support Company | Blue Ridge Technology, Inc.

Working on the Go? How to Be Wi-Fi Aware

Workers are more mobile than they’ve ever been at many office-oriented businesses. Your business likely pivoted hard to a virtual or work-from-home environment thanks to the pandemic. That move was crucial at the time as it was the only way to keep work moving, even though it created its own set of security concerns (which we’ve discussed here before). Now, as the world starts to open back up, many businesses are keeping more relaxed policies in place regarding where employees work. And employees are taking advantage, working from wherever they happen to be. If you or members of your team are working on the go, being Wi-Fi aware is also crucial for your company’s security. Here’s what mobile employees (executives, too) need to know about the potential dangers of unfamiliar Wi-Fi.

Be Cautious About Connecting to New Networks

The first step in being Wi-Fi aware is simply to be cautious when connecting to new Wi-Fi networks. It may seem like a Wi-Fi connection is merely a way to access the internet. But take a step back: that connection point is far more intimate than you might expect. Your device is sending all sorts of information through the access point. When you’re doing business, this includes sensitive, proprietary, and maybe even confidential business data. And you’re pretty much just expected to trust that the access point won’t do anything inappropriate with that data (and that no criminals have gained access to the access point).

Networks Can Be Compromised

So, why shouldn’t you trust all Wi-Fi connections to keep your data secure? First, because networks can be compromised. Open networks that don’t require a password or any kind of login procedure should be viewed with the greatest skepticism. The same goes for networks that don’t seem to be behaving normally. They could just be having hardware issues, or the glitches could be due to systems that have been compromised. There’s no 100% foolproof way to know whether a network has been compromised, unfortunately. That’s why it’s important to use extreme caution. Generally, though, larger and more respected companies that offer Wi-Fi are likely safer choices than the independent coffee shop around the corner running a totally open network.

Not Every Network Is What It Claims to Be

So, we’ve just said that larger and more respected companies tend to be safer, and that’s true. You’re safer (notice we didn’t say completely safe) on Starbucks Wi-Fi than on Sally’s Coffee Public Network. There’s just one more wrinkle: not every network is what it claims to be. Look for connections at a Starbucks in an urban center and you’re likely to see two or three “creative” variations on the actual network name. And at the airport, there’s a never-ending cascade of “Free_Publ1c_wifi” situations which are clearly not actually the airport’s doing. When you connect to a chain’s Wi-Fi (like Starbucks), you should get a familiar welcome screen. This is a strong sign that you’re really actually on Starbucks Wi-Fi. Your device might even connect automatically if you’ve been there before. If you don’t get the same experience you usually do, you’re probably on a spoofed Wi-Fi connection and you should disconnect immediately.

Action Plan

So, what should you do if you need Wi-Fi on the go? The best move is to use a mobile LTE or 5G hotspot, combined with VPN. But if you can’t do that and Wi-Fi is the only option, here’s your action plan:
  1. Use private, secure networks from trustworthy sources (large companies, coworking spaces, and so forth—networks that aren’t typically free).
  2. Use public networks at trustworthy businesses that require some kind of authentication (Starbucks, McDonalds, etc.).
  3. Use a VPN solution to access company materials.
  4. If you must connect to an open public Wi-Fi connection, don’t log into any sensitive sites or businesses.
There’s plenty more to this conversation, and some of the action steps (like implementing company-wide VPN) will require outside help. If you need additional assistance, reach out to us anytime.