Many employees access their work emails and work networks via public Wi-Fi hotspots, even though there is a risk that sensitive information such as login credentials could be intercepted by hackers. Many employees are unaware of the Wi-Fi security threats that lurk in their favorite coffee shop and fail to take precautions. Even employees who are aware of the Wi-Fi security threats often ignore the risks.

This was highlighted by a 2017 survey by Symantec. 55% of survey participants said they would not hesitate to connect to a free Wi-Fi hotspot if the signal was good and 46% said they would rather connect to a free, open wireless network than to wait to get a password to a secure access point.

60% of survey participants believed public Wi-Fi networks are safe and secure but even though 40% are aware of the Wi-Fi security threats, 87% said that they would access financial information such as their online banking portal or view their emails on public Wi-Fi networks.

The majority of users of public Wi-Fi networks who were aware of the Wi-Fi security threats said they ignored the risks. Millennials were the most likely age group to ignore Wi-Fi security threats: 95% of this age group said they had shared sensitive information over open Wi-Fi connections.

Consumers may be willing to take risks on public Wi-Fi networks, but what about employees? According to a 2018 Spiceworks survey, conducted on 500 IT professionals in the United States, employees are also taking risks.

61% of respondents to the survey said their employees connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, hotels, and airports to work remotely. Only 64% of respondents said their employees were aware of the Wi-Fi security threats. A similar percentage said their employees were aware of the risks and connect to their work networks using a VPN, which means that 4 out of 10 workers were unaware of the importance of establishing a secure connection.

Even though 64% of respondents were confident that employees were aware of the risks, only half were confident that data stored on mobile devices was adequately protected against threats from public Wi-Fi hotspots. 12% of respondents said they have had to deal with a public Wi-Fi related security incident, although a further 34% were not sure if there had been a security breach as many incidents are never reported.

WiFi Security Threats Everyone Should be Aware of

All employers should now be providing security awareness training to their employees to make the workforce more security aware. Employees should be trained how to identify phishing attempts, warned of the risk from malware and ransomware, and taught about the risks associated with public Wi-Fi networks.

Five threats associated with open public Wi-Fi hotspots are detailed below:

Evil Twins – Rogue Wi-Fi Hotspots

One of the most common ways of obtaining sensitive information is for a cybercriminal to set up an evil twin hotspot. This is a fake Wi-Fi access point that masquerades as the legitimate access point, such as one offered by a coffee shop or hotel. An SSID could be set up such as “Starbuck Guest Wi-Fi” or even just state the name of the establishment. Any information disclosed while connected to that hotspot can be intercepted.

Packet Sniffers

Using a packet sniffer, a hacker can identify, intercept, and monitor web traffic over unsecured Wi-Fi networks and capture personal information such as login credentials to bank accounts and corporate email accounts. If credentials are obtained, a hacker can gain full control of an account.

File-Sharing

Many people have file-sharing enabled on their devices. This feature is useful at home and in the workplace, but it can easily be abused by hackers. It gives them an easy way to connect to a device that is connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot. A hacker can abuse this feature to drop malware on a device when it connects to a hotspot.

Shoulder Surfing

Not all threats are hi-tec. One of the simplest methods of obtaining sensitive information is to observe someone’s online activities by looking over their shoulder. Information such as passwords may be masked so the information is not visible on a screen, but cybercriminals can look at keyboards and work out the passwords when they are typed.

Malware and Ransomware

When connecting to a home or work network, some form of anti-malware control is likely to have been installed, but those protections are often lacking on public Wi-Fi hotspots. Without the protection of AV software and a web filter, malware can be silently downloaded.

Employers can reduce risk by providing comprehensive training to employees to make sure they are aware of the risks from public Wi-Fi hotspots and make sure that employees are aware they should only connect to public Wi-Fi networks if they use a VPN. Employers can further protect workers with WebTitan Cloud – An enterprise-class web filter that protects workers from online threats, regardless of where they connect.

Hotspot providers can protect their customers by securing their Wi-Fi hotspots with WebTitan Cloud for Wi-Fi. WebTitan Cloud for Wi-Fi is a powerful web filter that protects all users of a hotspot from malware and phishing attacks, and can also be used to control the types of sites that can be accessed. If you offer Wi-Fi access, yet are not securing your hotspot, your customers could be at risk. Contact TitanHQ today to find out how you can protect your customers from online threats, control the content that can be accessed, and create a family-friendly Wi-Fi environment.