Our wireless devices appear to be multiplying. It used to be we couldn’t leave home without our smart phones. But now? Now it’s a bit out of control. Not only do we have our phones, but how many of us find ourselves toting our laptops and tablets everywhere we go? That’s three devices per person.
Of course, since we have these devices it only seems natural that we should be able to connect to the internet wherever we go on whichever device we choose. And not to mention, once we are connected, we want to be able to go to whatever sites we choose – whether that be Facebook or salesforce.com. For Millenials, it goes beyond seeming natural to being expected. As a result, state and local governments and universities are trying to cater to this demand by offering WiFi networks for their citizens or students. Just this year, major WiFi deployments at universities like North Carolina State and even shopping malls are making headlines.
While organizations roll these out to attract and retain students and customers or as a value-add public service, it brings to light some significant challenges:
- Security: How do these organizations manage the security of these networks? And we don’t just mean things you’d expect like viruses and bots. What about less obvious threats like inappropriate use? For example: What if Sally (fictitious student) used the WiFi network at her university to sell pirated software? Could the school be held liable for providing the enabling technology?
- Capacity: All these devices put a tremendous strain on an institution from a network management perspective. Depending on the technology used, as devices connect to the network, the range of the access points can shrink. This can lead to “dead Spots” in coverage. Not exactly a great customer satisfaction driver.
Clearly, organizations need to cater to our insatiable demand for “anywhere, anytime access”, but they also need to protect themselves and plan for capacity needs..
If your organization is thinking of going wireless, here are a few key considerations that will help you walk that line:
1) Create an acceptable use policy: Check out SANS for sample policies and make sure the user has to check a box to accept the terms each time they log in. This will protect you in the event of a “Sally” situation.
2) Check compliance guidelines: Certain types of businesses or information are subject to compliance regulations. Make sure you check appropriate regulations for your industry and use. For example, for retailers who have to comply with PCI, there are specific wireless requirements. If medical records are being transferred across the network, HIPPA applies.
3) Consider outsourcing: Managing the security of a wireless network can be daunting – especially for often cash-strapped organizations like state and local governments. Offloading the security to a provider will free up internal resources while ensuring up-to-date threat protection. In addition, outsourcing can minimize the “dead spot” issue since the provider is responsible for monitoring capacity needs and making adjustments to meet demand.
Have you deployed a WiFi network for your users or customers or are you considering it? What tips do you have for organizations looking to go wireless?