Wireless Internet connections at meetings have gone from a "nice to have" to a "must have" for participants because they wish to remain connected to their office and family, even when they are hundreds of miles away from them. With the increased amount of open WiFi "hotspots" in hotels and conference centers, attendees may connect to them without realizing the possible risks of doing so.
This blog will explain some of the potential risks of connecting to an open WiFi network from the participants and event meeting services organization point of view and explain what to do to minimize those risks.
What is the Risk?
A Wi-Fi network is, simply put, a data transmission system. Free WiFi is accessible to anyone. Many hotels and conference centers require a passcode or your hotel room number. However, because the network is open to all hotel guests, data transmitted through WiFi network can possibly be intercepted by any computer user connected to the network. Don't ever equate FREE, for SECURE. They are not one and the same.
What about Privacy?
Again, the data you transmit through an open WiFi network may be accessed by others. It’s not secure! User ids and passwords are at potential risk in this environment and anything that is on those systems.
How Does This Happen?
Data is sent over the Internet in packets (think bundled file folders). For example, e-mail messages or login information, is constructed from several packets, pushed through the bandwidth, together. If you want to log in at your e-mail account over a non-secured connection, the data is not encrypted, so attendees could potentially possess your login information.
What Should Attendees Do To Prevent This?
- When you see a free hotspot, check the source. You can see if the source is a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Those can be suspicious, especially when they’re called “Free Wi-Fi” or “Free hotspot”.
- Certify that you are on the right WiFi network for the conference. Currently, “Twin” networks are becoming increasingly popular at large events or venues for phishing attacks. Their address will be very close to the right connection. Be aware, and if you have any doubt, flag down your event organizer.
- Put in a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This avoids sending files with sensitive information over an open network.
- Password protect all login information, or better yet use encryption.
- Use SSL for both incoming and outgoing e-mail messages.
- Always keep your firewall and security software up-to-date, and turn off file and printer sharing.
- Password protect your laptop and mobile devices.
What Should Event Organizers Do?
- Obtain a secure and robust WiFi network. Having experts available to assess your security risk and help determine the best network configuration is the best course of action. Renting a WiFi network array should help in both areas, especially with a large number of attendees at your conference.
- Communicate the right network name and credentials to your attendees. Do it before the conference and several times during the event.
- Have your AV and IT partners, monitor suspicious WiFi network activity and act to stop it. Ask them to communicate any breeches to you and your team.
Providing a properly secured and fast WiFi network to your attendees is as important as a great speaker or fantastic educational content. Don't let a slow or unsecured network bring your conference to a halt!