Image: Ken Hawkins Image: Ken Hawkins

The use of free WiFi hotspots has been banned by almost two thirds of business organisations, according to a new survey.

The research, conducted by mobile connectivity provider iPass, also found that a further 20% of those surveyed are planning to introduce such bans, with an overwhelming majority (94%) seeing free WiFi hotspots as a significant mobile security threat.

The survey of 500 businesses in the US, UK, Germany and France found that while businesses are concerned with how to balance the need for a mobile workforce with the threat of security breaches. Another huge majority (92%) said they were worried about the security challenges posed by a growing mobile workforce.

Keith Waldorf, vice president of engineering at iPass, said: "WiFi is a disruptive technology that has changed the way people work, but in recent times it has also introduced formidable mobile security concerns.

"Being connected is the basic requirement of every mobile worker. However, with increasing number of businesses falling afoul to security breaches, the number of organisations expressing a concern about mobile security is high. The use of free and insecure WiFi hotspots in particular is a growing concern, as organisations balance the need for low-cost and convenient connectivity against the potential threat posed by hackers."

More than a third (37%) identified free WiFi hotspots as their single biggest mobile security threat, followed closely by employees' lack of attention to security (36%) and the devices they use (27%). With today's mobile workers utilising a wide range of difference devices and connection methods to get online, the enforcement of safe mobile usage is an increasing challenge for many organisations. In fact, the report revealed that a large number (88%) are struggling to consistently enforce a safe mobile usage policy.

To help ensure secure connections, many businesses provide their mobile workers with Virtual Private Technology (VPN), which creates an encrypted connection, to enable them to remotely access corporate data and systems. However, the report found that just 26% of respondents are fully confident that mobile workers access systems via a VPN at all times.

Organisations in the UK were the most lenient when it comes to banning the use of free WiFi hotspots, with nearly half (47%) stating that they don't actively prohibit their employees from using them. The UK was most likely to highlight its employees as the biggest threat to mobile security.

Mr Waldorf added: "The fact is, mobile workers will seek out free WiFi connectivity for its convenience, despite its security flaws. Simply banning access to free WiFi hotspots is a heavy-handed approach and is not the solution. In today's 'WiFi first' world, it is imperative that organisations educate their mobile workers about the dangers of insecure free WiFi, and equip them with the requisite tools to access a secure internet connection and remain productive."