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Businesses need to be careful when offering free Wi-Fi

We’ve reached the point where most people carry at least one Wi-Fi-enabled device at all times. According to Cisco’s 2016 VNI report, by 2021, more than 540 million public hotspots are expected to be online to support smart devices worldwide. And by now, most retail organizations have realized offering a reliable Wi-Fi network for guests is a fundamental cost of doing business. But, Wi-Fi has become way more than just a tool used to connect to the internet. You can’t just “set it and forget it” if you want to truly benefit from your wireless network.

The following are the top mistakes businesses make when offering free Wi-Fi to customers: No splash page or captive portal. Don’t forget to enable splash pages or captive portals when setting up your guest Wi-Fi networks. Many organizations simply offer free Wi-Fi with outdated looking “click here to accept terms and conditions” forms. Guests are able to quickly bypass these forms to access the internet while in your retail location, but it leaves a lot of valuable customer information and potential leads on the table. Customizable splash pages and captive portals can collect valuable customer information such as email addresses, mobile telephone numbers, social network accounts, and more in exchange for internet access. This process helps you better target your audience and to support efforts to engage with a larger customer base. Enabling authentication through popular social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will provide opportunities to access a wider range of useful information such as hometown, schools attended, buying habits, and more. At the very minimum, ensure your Wi-Fi network access page secures basic demographic data like customer gender and age. Exposing customers to fraudsters and hackers. As you’re probably well aware, no organization can afford to ignore cybersecurity best practices. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are attractive hunting grounds for Wi-Fi hackers. If you’re not utilizing proper Wi-Fi security protection, hackers can easily intercept your guest’s personal information, such as email credentials, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information. But, Wi-Fi security isn’t just about protecting your guests. It’s also an important method of protecting your brand’s reputation as well. How exactly does Wi-Fi security work? Wireless Intrusion Prevention Systems (WIPS) are a common wireless network security solution designed to defend Wi-Fi networks against cyber snooping. The problem is most of these solutions are expensive, and while discovering and blocking hackers within your airspace is relatively easy, most WIPS solutions can’t accurately distinguish between truly malicious devices or access points (APs) and legitimate neighboring APs from the business next door. This issue of false-positives can cause WIPS to inadvertently shut down harmless neighboring devices or APs — a mistake that can result in a damaged reputation and even legal consequences. Many companies actually disable the prevention feature of their WIPS in order to mitigate these risks. The good news is enterprise-grade Wi-Fi security solutions are no longer reserved for Fortune 100 corporations with unlimited resources, and there’s new technology that virtually eliminates WIPS false positives. Protect your wireless network and your customers with a WIPS that can automatically and accurately classify connected devices and APs as either authorized, external or rogue, and react accordingly. Additionally, as every retail organization knows, maintaining PCI compliance is an essential for your business — even if the standards are getting tougher each year. That said, compliance alone doesn’t ensure the security of your customers or your business itself. In fact, one PCI standard for securing wireless networks requires only that you perform regular scans for rogue APs once each quarter. That’s just one single scan every 90 days! So again, compliance is important, but should be coupled with 24/7/365 full WIPS protection. Losing sales to those E-commerce giants. Are you doing all you can to ensure customers aren’t using your retail location as a “showroom” to see merchandise before going online to price hunt on competing e-commerce sites? You can use many mobile engagement techniques to communicate with your guests once they've connected to your Wi-Fi network. These tools allow you to extend your engagement strategies past the splash page and provide a rich, personalized experience for your guests that informs them with relevant details precisely when they want it most. For example, URL interception tools can allow you present price shoppers on your Wi-Fi network with coupons, discount codes or customized messages offering when they compare your prices with those of online retailers. You can also use you Wi-Fi network as a channel to communicate directly with customers in the form of SMS, MMS, and their social network of choice. Wi-Fi-delivered surveys and polls will help you to directly and accurately gauge customer feedback that can help you adjust marketing and business tactics, while communicating that you care. Letting Wi-Fi analytics gather dust. A customer stepping into one of your physical locations is just like one visiting your website. Information about how they got there, where they go, how long they stay, and what they purchase can be crucial for immediate and long-term marketing and business decision-making. Many retail organizations fail to utilize analytics from their Wi-Fi networks to understand customer footfall, dwell time, and other metrics that can help with store optimization and layout. Your wireless network is capable of providing massive amounts of customer data collected via passive scans, active scans and user connections in and around your Wi-Fi networks. When analyzed properly, these insights can reveal traffic patterns, behavior, and demographics of your Wi-Fi users, which can all be used to better optimize your floor plan and offerings. Not prioritizing internet safety for families and children. In addition to ensuring that Wi-Fi experience is safe from hackers, make sure you’re taking the necessary precautions to allow guests of all ages to enjoy internet access without the risk of encountering distasteful content. A great resource for internet safety is Friendly WiFi, an organization whose initiatives recognize public venues that provide secure and filtered Wi-Fi. You can typically identify businesses that offer safe Wi-Fi with a highly visible Friendly Wi-Fi emblem at their locations. Wi-Fi can be a game-changer for your business … for better or worse. If left unprotected, a guest Wi-Fi network at your business can unintentionally expose your customers’ personal information to hackers. Conversely, a secure and fully leveraged Wi-Fi network can provide a safe and efficient online experience for your customers, that also helps you create a positive online relationship with them, increase customer satisfaction and sales.

Credit to: Ryan Orsi, director of product management, WatchGuard Technologies with info for this article.

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