Hazards of setting up Wi-Fi in the workplace

While Free Wi-Fi may be the buzzword, it’s semi-free Wi-Fi that companies really want to provide for their employees. Here Lyle Frink Safetica at Technologies takes a look at the advantages of semi-free Wi-Fi for employers.

Semi-free Wi-Fi is where a company gives almost free Wi-Fi access to its employees – along with a few monitoring safeguards over what employees can download, access, and upload with their smartphones. It is about providing a nice perk for employees without handing them the keys to the company. And it is much more complicated to set up then just plugging a standard router into the network cable.

Providing a semi-free Wi-Fi is based on three major points: technical, legal, and social. Each one of these three points has to be considered for a successful implementation.

Driving at work on the internet highway

Internet in the workplace is no new phenomena – even in an industrial setting. For example, a major automobile factory had free-standing internet terminals in its break area with assembly line workers able to do some surfing during their coffee breaks. Given the hi-tech setup of this factory, these workers had a much faster internet connection on the assembly line than they did at home.

This level of access was even more amazing when one considers the automotive sector’s incredibly secretive culture over new models and trade secrets. But, this was before the current wave of smartphones and free Wi-Fi. Given that a company already provided internet access for fixed computers – what should they do now to bring this policy into the Free Wi-Fi era – and keep a minimum level of controls on their employee’s activities?

It’s time to be semi-free with your Wi-Fi

Semi-free Wi-Fi should provide employees with a workplace benefit of easy internet access together with the assurance for their employers that the company is not creating problems for itself. There are legitimate reasons – liability, competitive secrecy, to name a few – for a company to limit internet access. Keeping employees from downloading unwanted content or uploading photos of unreleased future products is just good business sense. But implementing a semi-free WiFi is no simple step for a company, especially when it is connected with data control and potentially monitoring employee actions.

1. Technical Security

Wi-Fi networks bring a range of security issues – both internal and external – to companies. These issues can be summarized as who connects and what are they connecting to.

From the external (who connects) perspective, Wi-Fi networks are often weak spots in a company’s security. At a very basic level, companies need to monitor the Wi-Fi signal for control over the people actually connecting, have a firewall installed, and use strong authentication processes(WPA2 with AES encryption, strong passwords).

Then there is the internal (what are they doing) perspective where Data Loss Prevention or monitoring software come into play. These offer companies the intriguing possibility to control and monitor data use. Issues to consider here are how deep management wants this software to go into daily employee internet use, installation complexity, and the time burden required for its day-to-day administration. In short, there are various options, but there are no easy answers.

2. Legal – Company policy and the collision with employee privacy

The technical ability to monitor puts companies on a potential collision course with employee privacy rights. One of the major no-no activities is reading employee emails – except under very specific conditions. But since rules over individual privacy and employer’s ability to protect their confidential data vary by region and country, companies need to take a close look at the rules covering the legal use of a software such as Safetica.

3. Social – Creating a positive social environment

Within the European Union, employers must have written consent from each employee for any policy that involves monitoring. But a signed piece of paper is really the start. Communicating the need for monitoring together with benefits from the Wi-Fi access is not just a technical or legal check-off point, it really is a long-term HR issue for the whole organization.