GFI Software Survey: 95.6 Percent of Commuters in the US put Company Data at Risk over Free Public Wi-Fi

September 17, 2013 - 12:00

Study reveals commuters regularly connect to free, unsecure Wi-Fi services during their daily commute, putting personal and company data at risk every week

GFI Software™ today 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 1,000 US office workers with a tablet or smartphone who travel to and from work on a train, bus or subway was conducted by Opinion Matters for GFI Software, and revealed that not only are employees using mobile devices and accessing data services during their daily commute, they are also increasing the risk of data security issues for their employers.

95.6 percent of 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 accessing company servers. More than one-third (34.2 percent) of those respondents reported they accessed public Wi-Fi at least 20 times per week during their commutes, with some employees saying they connect more than 70 times per week. This activity puts 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

- 83 percent of respondents reported using their mobile device on public transportation.

- 60.9 percent admit they will utilize any free Wi-Fi source they can find.

- More than 40 percent of those surveyed use 4G mobile data services as their primary way to access the internet on the move.

- 95.6 percent of survey respondents acknowledged that they used open, public Wi-Fi connections at least once a week to carry out work-related tasks.

- 59.8 percent 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.

- Only 26.9 percent of commuters are concerned about data being intercepted when using public Wi-Fi, but continue to use the service.

- Almost 60 percent 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.

- 97.3 percent of employees use their personal mobile device for work.

- Almost 20 percent of mobile devices have no security enabled, not even a password or PIN number, while almost one in four (24.7 percent) have corporate security policies enforced on their devices.

Mobile Devices Increase Security Issues as well as Productivity

As wireless devices become increasingly engrained into the daily lives of Americans, they are enabling greater security risks. Not only are mobile devices becoming points of access for cybercriminals, but they are more easily breached than a personal computer because many consumers do not secure their smartphone with anti-virus software or even use password protection. Statistics show less than one-third of mobile users have anti-virus installed on their device compared to 91 percent on their computers. Fact is, most people do not view cyber security on their mobile devices as a threat.

From Commuting to BYOD

The survey also revealed that the increased commuter use of smartphones and tablets is pushing more companies to adopt Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, often without the infrastructure in place to manage them. While 24.7 percent of those surveyed had corporate security policies pushed out to their mobile device, nearly 40 percent (39.8) admitted to using mobile devices to circumvent existing network security policies.

Use of personal mobile devices in the workplace is significant, with 86.9 percent of respondents using their mobile device at work. More than half (54.6 percent) reported using their smartphone at work, for work related purposed, for at least 30 minutes per week and more than a quarter (26.3) used their device for more than an hour. In contrast, 51 percent of workers also use their smartphone for personal reasons while connected to their company network for at least 30 minutes per week, and 23.1 percent do so for more than an hour.

“BYOD is something that isn’t going to go away. From the early days of executives buying PDAs and expecting IT to support them, end-user devices in the workplace being used for work tasks has been with us for more than two decades. However, the explosion in BYOD fuelled by powerful and affordable smartphones and tablets is such that companies have to manage it. Mobile Device Management is now a paramount IT security requirement for businesses of all sizes to maintain data security and integrity inside and outside of the company network,” said Scott.

Can’t it Wait?

Almost half (44.6 percent) of those surveyed also admitted to frequent use of their mobile devices while using the bathroom, an amusing result that goes some way to explaining why so many mobile phones suffer water damage and broken screens from being dropped into sinks and toilets. The results showed that men and women use their phones equally while at home, work, walking, on public transit or at the gym. Women do use their phone in the bedroom at a slightly higher rate than men.

About GFI

GFI Software™ develops quality IT solutions for small to mid-sized businesses with generally up to 1,000 users. GFI® offers two main technology solutions: GFI MAX™, which enables managed service providers (MSPs) to deliver superior services to their customers; and GFI Cloud™, which empowers companies with their own internal IT teams to manage and maintain their networks via the cloud. Serving an expanding customer base of more than 200,000 companies, GFI’s product line also includes collaboration, network security, anti-spam, patch management, faxing, mail archiving and web monitoring. GFI is a channel-focused company with thousands of partners throughout the world. The company has received numerous awards and industry accolades, and is a longtime Microsoft® Gold ISV Partner.