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November 16, 2016

Public Wi-Fi: Beloved by Mobile Workers and Hackers Alike

It’s no secret that Wi-Fi has become a key component of people’s everyday lives. Whether it’s being used for work purposes or for simply scrolling through social media, Wi-Fi is a valuable asset that keeps people feeling happy and connected. A new report from iPass Inc., a provider of global mobile connectivity, found that people prefer having Wi-Fi over some of life’s other vices, and even make decisions based on whether or not a destination has Wi-Fi accessibility.

The iPass Mobile Professional Report 2016 is illuminating in that it shows people depend much more on Wi-Fi than you may have initially thought. It even appears to be the most popular out of life’s typical pleasures, with 40 percent of those surveyed stating that Wi-Fi is their No.1 daily essential. Of that number, 37 percent ranked Wi-Fi as a higher priority than sex, 14 percent preferred it over chocolate, and 9 percent chose Wi-Fi over alcohol.

Some of the less shocking results include 75 percent of respondents stating that Wi-Fi has improved their quality of life—that point is pretty hard to argue. Meanwhile, 63 percent prefer using Wi-Fi hotspots over mobile data, and 75 percent said data is more important than minutes when choosing a cellular contract. Again, not so shocking—people want to save money where they can, and Wi-Fi allows them to do so by saving data.

Patricia Hume, chief commercial officer of iPass, offered some insight into why Wi-Fi has become so important by saying, “We all want to stay connected and productive in our personal and professional lives. Mobile professionals, in particular, expect to remain connected at all times, whether at home, travelling between client meetings, at their hotel or even inflight.” She continued, “We all want Wi-Fi first, because of faster speeds, lower prices and the better user experience it affords. And with the population of global mobile workers standing well over one billion, employers should be prepared to meet the demands of their employees, by providing them with the connectivity they desire.”

Hume is right that people expect to be connected no matter where they are, and that need has started to influence people’s choices in destination. Wi-Fi has become a travel essential for many, with 72 percent of respondents stating that they have chosen on hotel based solely on Wi-Fi experience. Another 35 percent said that Wi-Fi capabilities have influenced their choice of airline, and 72 percent stated that free Wi-Fi at airports is an added bonus. Based on these numbers, if your company doesn’t offer Wi-Fi, it’s going to get passed over by professionals looking to stay connected.

While being able to access important emails and stay connected to friends and family is important, it’s also dangerous. Free Wi-Fi is great, but it opens devices up to security risks. Seventy-three percent of respondents said that they have never paid for airport Wi-Fi, but have instead used the free offering—just think of how many opportunities hackers have to steal that information. Free Wi-Fi in big public spaces is a cybersecurity nightmare, and companies are taking notice.

Although companies may recognize the security issues that go along with public Wi-Fi, many have problems keeping employees in check. Plus, with one in two mobile professionals stating that their companies have BYOD policies, it’s even harder to control what workers do on their devices.

Despite company concerns, employees don’t seem to be wavering in their Wi-Fi usage. Sixty six percent of mobile professionals admit to being worried about data security, yet 42 percent still access company data using public Wi-Fi, and 38 percent have never used a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to protect their data.

This looks like another classic case of the “It’ll never happen to me” mindset. Hume commented on the seriousness of this attitude by saying, “Unfortunately, the priorities of companies and their employees seem to be worlds apart. Employees have vast troves of valuable data on their smartphones, but are considerably less concerned about losing sensitive corporate data than they are about losing their personal information. It’s clear that companies still need to do a lot more to educate their employees regarding mobile security risks and provide robust safe usage guidelines. Ultimately, in today’s Wi-Fi first world, mobile professionals need to be equipped with the tools they need to remain productive wherever they are, while ensuring the use of public Wi-Fi doesn’t expose their corporate data to ever-growing security risks.”

The scenario Hume describes would be perfect; if employees could be equipped with tools to allow them to safely access company data over Wi-Fi, all would be right with the world. Until that day comes, though, mobile professionals need to be careful of where they use Wi-Fi, and companies need to keep tabs on public Wi-Fi use.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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