Wi-Fi makes you productive, but is it secure?

Data commissioned by the Wi-Fi Alliance underscores the persistent laissez faire attitude that many wireless users have about security.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

From the organization responsible for defining the standards that go into Wi-Fi wireless networking comes a warning this week that small and midsize businesses would do well to heed: most of us aren't actually using the inherent security measures.

According to data collected by Wakefield Research on behalf of the Wi-Fi Alliance, almost also of the U.S. survey respondents using Wi-Fi believe it is a "safe and secure" method of connecting to email, applications and corporate networks. Most people (86 percent) have locked down their home network in some way, but that's just one step in the process. In particular, it is a password problem: only 59 percent of the respondents had adopted log-ins that meet the basic requirements for length and strength.

Here is another disconnect:

Close to 85 percent of the respondents knew that they should turn off automatic sharing on their Wi-Fi devices, but only 62 percent of them had actually taken measures to do so.

Here's one that scared me even more. Only 18 percent of the people using Wi-Fi in a public hotspot are using some kind of virtual private networking (VPN) software to protect their corporate network.

Anyway, you get the trend. Most of us intuitively know that Wi-Fi has its security challenges and that it can be finetuned to lock things down, but a significant number of us are actually doing anything about it.

As more SMBs support mobile telecommuters, this sort of carelessness could make for serious heartache. Unless I am mistaken, most of your people probably are using ad hoc Wi-Fi when they need to connect OR they are using the Wi-Fi hub in their home. Not some wireless broadband service, like those offered by the major carriers.

This data is another reminder that any small business that encourages its employees to work from multiple locations needs to set real policies for security and access control, especially when they are connecting via wireless means. And, frankly, who ISN'T connecting via wireless these days?

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