Employees using wi-fi networks can compromise security, monopolize space

By Harriet Jones - WNPR - May 13, 2013

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No matter the industry, small companies are more dependent than ever on their computer networks. And it turns out those networks are more at risk than ever – because of the explosion of personal wireless. WNPR’s Harriet Jones explains.

Once upon a time – not that long ago – the only wireless device you might have walked around with in your pocket was a Blackberry issued to you by your employer. Now the shoe is on the other foot and instead of being issued with devices, we are all bringing our own smartphones and tablets into work. That might seem like a great thing for small, cash-strapped companies.

“Saving on capital expenditures is not a problem, but it does pose some problems.”

Geoffrey James’s company, Stratford based Ash Creek Enterprises designs, builds and repairs computer networks for small and medium sized companies. He says all those extra devices can quickly overwhelm an employer’s infrastructure.

“Let’s say a company has a hundred employees and there’s maybe 10 or 20 laptops. The network was designed to support that amount of traffic. You now have those same 100 employees bringing smartphones and tablets – now you have 200 devices on a wireless network that was before only supporting ten or 20 devices.”

And he says it’s not just the amount of devices, but the sheer volume of content that’s radically changed.

“Traditional loads, a laptop would be pulling some files off the server, it was not a very network intensive thing. Now people are streaming video to iPads, and you have multiple people doing that.”

Overwhelming your network is not the only problem… security is also a major concern. In fact some companies have simply banned the practice of bring-your-own-device altogether. Frank Mauri is the IT director at the law firm of Updike, Kelly and Spellacy in Hartford.

“We restrict it at the law firm, you can’t plug anything into our network – it’s being blocked. Money, client data, intellectual property’s in there. All kinds of things – people can compromise your information.”

Personal devices, he says, make a company more vulnerable to hackers, and to viruses.

“For smaller firms it is issues with people bringing their laptop in. It doesn’t have any anti-virus software on, and plug it into your network – now all of a sudden, bam, your network has a virus.”

The fix – plan ahead. Some companies only allow personal devices on one segment of their network and keep sensitive data in a location where it can’t be accessed.