More and more, organizations are using wireless fidelity to make their mobile workforces more productive. They are a convenient way to provide salespeople, technicians, nurses, and other employees on the go with remote access to corporate networks. In theory, they translate into better customer service, faster time to market, and greater flexibility for employees.
Wi-Fi deployments at U.S. companies have surged, helped by the increase in public "hotspots" in airports, cafes, hotels, and gas stations where workers can go online. Gartner Inc. estimates that 60 percent of midsize companies in North America will have wireless networks by the end of this year. But freedom from wire carriers carries with it an increased risk that someone will hack into your network. They aren't as secure as wired, broadband systems.
Unauthorized access points are one of the reasons. It's standard corporate practice to install firewalls on the routers for Wi-Fi equipped computers, but some employees install their own, unshielded access points. Hackers can plant viruses, relay spam, or plunder customer files from the company's network. Experts warn that WiFi breaches will result in huge dollar losses by companies who don't protect themselves.
Risks posed by WiFi can be managed with the latest information technology. It is people, not machines, that install rogue access points and neglect to encrypt email at Starbucks. It is the responsibility of the IT and Human resources departments to train employees, write and enforce policies on usage, and back the policies up with severe penalties for misuse, including termination.
Intel's sales force relies on their wireless notebooks and BlackBerry handhelds as productivity enhancers and integrators of work and home life. Through employee intranet sites and the electronic newsletter, HR managers promote WiFi as an employee benefit and promote their wireless-security policy. For instance, all employees must use an Intel virtual private network to encrypt messages, whether they are at home or in a coffee shop.
Widespread adoption of wireless fidelity in the workplace seems inevitable. Security must keep up with the technology, and it is the responsibility of HR departments to inform employees of security policies and to enforce them.