We have become a nation of mobile device users for whom Wi-Fi has become essential. So essential, in fact, that we connect to public Wi-Fi networks in airports, coffee shops, hotels, and many other locations even though we know the security risks.
That’s a key finding in Rolling the Dice with Public Wi-Fi, an October 2016 survey report from Xirrus Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif., a provider of high-performance Wi-Fi networks and access points, in conjunction with Morgan Wright, a cybersecurity expert and senior fellow at The Center for Digital Government, a research and advisory institute on IT policies and best practices in state and local government.
The researchers surveyed more than 2,000 executives and IT pros in the tech, education, finance, and healthcare industries and found that 91 percent of survey participants know that public Wi-Fi is not secure, but 89 percent of them use it anyway. Perhaps more concerning, 44 percent of Wi-Fi users connect to three or more public networks a day, while 3 percent connect to more than five public networks a day. And that’s a problem, says the report, because the more networks to which a user connects, the more likely he or she is to download malware on a public connection and transport the virus to a secure work or home network.
So what type of files are public Wi-Fi users accessing? According to the report, 83 percent of those surveyed access their email, whether personal or for work, and 43 percent access work or job-specific information. Sadly, 46 percent say their companies have not offered cybersecurity training in the past year.
“Whether it’s online banking or work email, Wi-Fi users are accessing sensitive information over public Wi-Fi,” says the report, underscoring that public Wi-Fi providers—from hotels to convention centers to retailers to healthcare facilities—need to provide better online security for their customers. Employers, likewise, have a responsibility to provide employees with the tools and education to keep corporate data safe. Channel pros, this is where you come in.