Business Travelers Highlight Public Wifi Security Risk

The latest research by global travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel indicates that the majority of business travelers have grave reservations about the safety of their data when using public Wifi networks. Public WiFi security has long been an area that has concerned security professionals – but these concerns are now shared by those who access public WiFi hotspots in airports and other stopover points (such as coffee shops) during their global travels.

According to the research 72% of travelers in the Asia Pacific region were not confident about the safety of employer data during their trips. U.S. travelers on the other hand were the most sanguine about the safety of their data with 46% were confident that public WiFi security was adequate. European travelers were least confident with only 27% unworried about their data security when using public WiFi networks. Of the 2,000 global business travelers surveyed, 65% were less than confident about public WiFi security issues.

Top cyber security concerns

However, it was not only public WiFi security that concerned these travelers. The top three concerns were first and foremost physical theft of devices (or simply losing the devices) and secondly exposing company data to prying eyes while working on their devices. However, by far and away the greatest concern was being hacked while using public WiFi. The concerns around public WiFi were echoed in some of the other issues that were voiced by these travelers. Many were worried about cyber security while using email or even opening company documents.

It is not only the use of public WiFi that appears to be problematic. Around 37% of business travelers admitted to downloading unknown files from unrecognized users – about the same percentage who opened a phishing email. Whether this is simple ignorance or a willful refusal to adhere to company guidelines is not made clear in the report. However, the facts are that a lot more needs to be done on a number of fronts. Firstly, business needs to be doing more to educate users about the potential dangers of using public WiFi – and security professionals in organizations need to be more proactive in the firewalls that prevent behavior like this.

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The issue of training and education was addressed by Andrew Jordan, executive vice-president and chief technology officer at Carlson Wagonlit Travel when he noted that, “These percentages can surely improve dramatically with better training on data safety.”

Proactive response to public WiFi security

The research did highlight the fact that a large percentage of employees were proactive in the actions they took once they became aware of a data breach. 37% claim to have shut down their devices, 25% immediately reported the breach to their company’s while 34% reached out the company IT department. Hearteningly 62% of respondents reported knowing how to report a phishing email to the company.

However, the research also revealed that less than 20% of business travelers received regular and formal communication on data security from their company. 34% indicated that the company was proactive in informing the business traveler of what constitutes risky behavior.

“These results show there is still a lot to do around educating travelers on how to look after their company’s data. For instance, connectivity in public spaces can put company data at risk. Awareness and training is the key to protecting against any possible security breaches,” adds Jordan.

The concerns of business travelers seem to echo wider security concerns surrounding the use of public WiFi. In early 2018 leading security publications revealed that a massive flaw was discovered in WPA2 the encryption standard that secures all modern WiFi networks.. This led to one security writer providing the following advice, “When considering whether to connect to the public WiFi network at your local coffee shop, the airport, etc., I have two simple words of advice—don’t and DON’T.”


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