Free Wi-Fi: A “Catch 22” for Hospitality Networks
For businesses in the hospitality sector like restaurants and coffee shops, free Wi-Fi is an effective method of attracting customers and encouraging them to stay longer and make more purchases. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement. The increase in traffic more than makes up for the cost of Wi-Fi, and customers get convenient free access to the Internet. But like everything else in life, the arrangement is not perfect: there is a catch.
Providing free internet access can create a multitude of very serious problems for your business.
Possible Risks of Providing Free Wi-Fi
If proper controls are not established, free Wi-Fi can pose a direct threat to your most sensitive business and customer data. Some of the major threats lurking out there include:
• “War drivers,” (hackers in search of open networks who may also be disgruntled employees or competitors),
• Your network’s evil twin also known as WiPhishing, a rogue access point that duplicates the name of your network, enticing your customers to log onto the bad network laden with cyber traps.
• The promiscuous client, an access point placed close to a public hotspot for malicious purposes.
You also need to watch out for network attack vectors from cell phone viruses, wireless router poisoning and bluejacking or bluesnarfing that hijacks the Bluetooth wireless protocol used by devices such as wireless headsets..
An ever-present direct threat is that poorly implemented wireless networks will allow public access to your business networks. While this can have many obvious bad results, let’s pick one serious threat: violating the Payment Card Industry (PCI) requirements that govern processing of credit and debit cards. Aside from exposure to fines and other issues related to being non-compliant, you don’t want your business to be the one that let customer card data be stolen.
Apart from direct threats, you also need to consider indirect liability risks. Recently a number of definitive measures have been taken to counter internet piracy. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) have entered an agreement with some major internet service providers for the same. As per this arrangement, those suspected of piracy over the internet will be sent warning messages asking them to avoid such conduct. If there is no change after 5 messages, service providers can decrease internet speed or in extreme cases completely cut off access until the illegal conduct stops.
These measures have made internet pirates wary of carrying out illegal activities over their own internet connection and given them incentive to use the free access provided by hospitality businesses instead. If your internet connection is used for downloading illegal content like underage pornography or copyrighted material, you can face stiff fines.
How Can You Protect Your Business?
The fact that free Wi-Fi can put your business at risk doesn’t mean that you need to stop offering the service, but you certainly need to take some precautionary measures.
Fundamental network design principles go a long way. Keeping your business and guest networks strictly segregated. Protecting all wireless access points with appropriate credentials. Using commercial-grade firewall products to establish safe network and “DMZ” environments. Taken together, these basic building blocks of network architecture can help protect your valuable information assets.
Physical and organizational control measures are necessary for protection against liability risks as well. It is a good idea to let customers know verbally that you disapprove of illegal downloads and other such questionable activities over the internet. You can also put up signs for the same.. You can also consider blocking access to websites that are suspected of involvement in illegal activities.
While the above listed measures are not foolproof, they offer protection against a majority of wireless threats.