Visiting a coffee shop for a caffeine fix usually means having the opportunity to save some bandwidth by connecting to a free Wi-Fi network. In fact a coffee shop without free Wi-Fi is unlikely to be anywhere near as busy and those offering patrons the opportunity to connect to the Internet for free.

Even airports, restaurants, shopping centers and many pubs allow visitors to connect to their Wi-Fi for free. Many freelance workers even head to cafes to a full day’s work, while others just check email or surf the Internet. The ability to connect to someone else’s Wi-Fi is convenient and saves money. However, as many people discover, it may not be quite as free as they think. Connecting to free Wi-Fi hotspots carries considerable risks. There may actually a considerable cost. Identity theft and the emptying of a bank account!

The importance of a secure Wi-Fi connection

Many free Wi-Fi networks allow any user within range to connect without even having to register. These open networks really are open to anyone, and that means open to criminals as well. When users connect to these networks they allow any individual who is also connected to see a considerable amount of their data. Should a person with the inclination and a modicum of technical skill choose to inspect network traffic, they could potentially see the websites that are visited, read the emails that are sent, and even view login names and passwords. Installing malware on every device that connects is also pretty straightforward.

Not all Wi-Fi networks are open. Some coffee shops and free Wi-Fi hotspots require users to identify themselves. Access can only be gained if users logon. This requires the use of a token or password which is only provided to people who create accounts. These Wi-Fi networks use encryption that prevents data from being intercepted. That does not mean that these networks are entirely secure, only that additional security controls have been employed to make them safer.

If operators of public Wi-Fi networks really want to protect their users from the myriad of viruses and malware on the Internet, additional security controls should be employed. One of the best options in this regard is a web filter (often referred to as an Internet filter or content filter).

The importance of installing a web filter to protect users

A web filter will restrict the websites that can be visited while connected to a network. Many businesses have web filters in place to restrict the websites that employees can access while at work. Many homes have a parental filter in place that stops children (and adults!) from accessing pornographic content, gambling websites, dating sites and other types of website that contain inappropriate or potentially harmful content.

Coffee shops and cafes rarely have these web filters in place. They may filter the coffee, but they certainly do not filter the Internet. This means visitors could access pornographic material, gambling sites, and streaming services, and many of those websites contain really dangerous material – malware, viruses, and malicious code that could result in the users’ devices being infected. In some cases, their device could be compromised to the point that all data entered could be transmitted to a hacker.

Insecure or secure Wi-Fi – The choice is yours

When setting up a Wi-Fi network, the system administrator or operator of that network has a choice: Secure or insecure. The reality is that there is very little difference in terms of time when setting up a secure or insecure network, but there is a world of difference for users.

Even if an insecure network is chosen and kept totally separate from other networks, there is a risk that the insecure Wi-Fi network will be used by hackers to launch an attack on other networks that have been secured. Insecure Wi-Fi should therefore never be chosen.

Would you want your patrons or employees to be infected? What impact would that have on your business?

Are you waving a flag and shouting at hackers to come and attack your network?

Set up an insecure network and you might as well place a sign above your door saying hackers welcome! Attack our visitors and steal from our employees!

Fail to protect your network and your employees and loyal customers could have their privacy violated, devices compromised, and their most sensitive information revealed. The decision not to secure Wi-Fi, which is illegal in some parts of the world, could also be leaving you wide open to a lawsuit. It could also seriously damage your brand’s reputation and end up driving customers away.

Providing the public with free Wi-Fi access? Make sure you…….

Set up a secure password

An insecure password does not really offer much more protection than an open network. If your password is easy to guess, hackers will guess correctly before very long. Don’t use your shop name, use numbers and letters, include capital letters and even some symbols. Never use a name with a date appended to the end, or a number sequence such as 1234. Also do not use common words with a few specific characters replaced with numbers. You may think they are hard to guess, but not for a bot that tries many different common combinations.

Block the content that can be accessed through your network

Would you like a child to accidentally see the screen of someone viewing hardcore pornography while connected to your network? Would you like to deal with law enforcement officers when they visit you to find out why one your visitors are downloading terrorist manuals from your establishment? Of course not!

The answer is to restrict the content that can be viewed, and to do that you need to install a web filter such as WebTitan Wi-Fi. Its low cost, easy to set up, and it will restrict the websites that can be accessed through your network.

Filtering Wi-Fi should be as important to you as filtering your water and coffee. More so in fact. It protects you and it protects your customers. If your focus is providing a quality service for your customers, the provision of a web filter is essential. It could be the difference between a customer visiting your establishment or going to a more secure competitor.