Travelers regularly connect to free, unsecure Wi-Fi networks

GFI Software announced the findings of an extensive independent research project looking at end user use of mobile devices at work and in their daily commute to and from the workplace, which revealed that commuters are using free, unsecured and unknown Wi-Fi services for accessing sensitive company data in greater numbers.

The survey of 1,001 UK office workers with a tablet or smartphone who travel to and from work on a train, bus or tube was carried out by Opinion Matters, and revealed not only that mobile devices and using data services are firmly entrenched as the primary activity of the average commuter, but also that commuters and their employers are falling foul of data security issues, as well as heightened risk of physical crime.

100% of the survey respondents acknowledged that they used open, public Wi-Fi connections at least once a week to carry out work-related tasks such as sending and receiving email, reviewing and editing documents and logging into other company servers and storage repositories.

On average, users connected to public Wi-Fi to do work and access work systems 15 times a week, putting company data and passwords at risk from packet sniffing and other forms of traffic interception.

“The research findings reveal a stark and concerning trend among commuters – one of using their personal devices to catch up on work during their commuting downtime, but doing so over highly insecure internet connections that can be easily intercepted by other users or the operator of the access point,” said Walter Scott, CEO of GFI Software. “Mobile internet access is now firmly entrenched as a day-to-day norm, but with that has come an increasingly relaxed user attitude to data security, compliance and data governance policy. Companies need to address mobile device management to ensure that use in insecure environments doesn’t create vulnerabilities that could be exploited by criminals – both cyber and conventional.”

Key findings:

  • 46% use Wi-Fi as their primary means to access the internet on their mobile device, more than those who rely on 3G data services (43%).
  • Only 7% of those surveyed are using 4G mobile data services as their primary way to access the internet on the move.
  • 31% of respondents connected to public, untrusted Wi-Fi services to access confidential work data at least once a week, with the overall average being 15 times a week.
  • 57% are concerned about being robbed if they use their smartphone or tablet in public locations such as train stations, bus stops or while walking to and from work.
  • 52% of commuters are concerned about data being intercepted when using public Wi-Fi, but continue to use the service.
  • Half of those surveyed become frustrated if no free public Wi-Fi is available, illustrating how users now perceive public Wi-Fi as a necessary part of daily life.
  • 20% of mobile devices have no security enabled, not even a password or PIN number, while only 5% have corporate security policies enforced on their devices.

While crime on London’s public transport system is down overall, muggings and thefts in and around tube stations and bus stops are on the rise.

Figures released in August 2013 show that the overall number of offences jumped by a thousand, or 6.5 per cent, to a total of 17,030 in 2012/13, fuelled by a big surge in thefts of mobile phones and tablets.

The issue has been exacerbated by last year’s launch of public Wi-Fi services on most Tube stations platforms and ticket halls. The GFI research data shows this is a popular and well-used service, with 84% of Londoners (against a national average of 87%) surveyed confirming that they openly use their mobile device on public transport, with 37% using free public Wi-Fi available at stations.

The knock-on effect of this is that such services, as well as being unsecured, encourage users to openly display and use valuable computing devices in public, making them and their users increased targets for opportunistic thieves as well as cyber criminals. Commuters and pedestrians being targeted for their smartphones by muggers on bicycles is the capital’s fastest growing crime spree according to police data.

Don't miss