You’re on the road, taking meetings, trying to scrounge up the next round of funding to keep your biotech firm growing. But just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you can kick back and relax by the hotel pool.
Back home in the lab, the experiments continue, the data is piling up. You’ve got email to send, staff to manage, and expenses to approve. At an early-stage biotech, the work must always go on.
Good thing most hotels offer free WiFi now. Just check in, log in, and get to work.
Before you hit “connect,” though, consider the risks. This isn’t the secure, managed network that keeps you safe back at the office. This network was set up by someone you don’t know, for reasons that are not your own. Who knows who might get a look at your data?
Data is everything for a biotech firm. It’s where all the discoveries you’ve made and are soon to make originate. It’s what separates you from your competitors. Is the convenience of hotel WiFi really worth jeopardizing your entire business?
Here are two reasons hotel WiFi could be a potential security risk.
1. Hackers May Be Lurking
It’s unlikely the Radisson or Holiday Inn Express will deliberately try to filch your data, but you can never know the malicious forces they have unwittingly allowed on their network.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to business travelers: “Hackers are using security vulnerabilities in hotel Wi-Fi to steal people’s passwords and other sensitive information.”
According to the FTC, here’s how it works:
- You log in to your hotel’s WiFi network.
- You get a popup on your screen for a software update.
- It’s a not a genuine update. When you accept it, you download malware — software designed to steal your data and disrupt your computer.
How did the hackers make their way into the network of a major hotel chain? The router itself may be compromised.
2. It May Not Be the Hotel’s WiFi at All
The security experts at Avast Software pulled a particularly revealing prank in Cleveland during the recent Republican National Convention. Around the convention arena and the airport, Avast set up several fake WiFi hotspots with names like “Google Starbucks,” “Xfinitywifi,” and “I vote Trump! free Internet.” (This being a non-partisan experiment, Avast also set up “I vote Hillary! free Internet”.)
Thousands of convention-goers took the bait, thinking the fake connections were legit.
“68.3% of users‘ identities were exposed when they connected, and 44.5% of Wi-Fi users checked their emails or chatted via messenger apps,” Avast reports.
Fake, unsecured hotspots like this are a common tactic of hackers eager to steal your biotech data. And as the Cleveland experiment proves, they’re pretty easy to fall for.
How to Protect Your Data While Traveling
So now you’re having second thoughts about connecting to hotel WiFi. But you still have work to do. How can you protect yourself?
The FTC offers a few pointers. Among them:
- If you must go online, only access encrypted websites. Look for “https” at the beginning of each web address. If it’s not there, log out.
- Set up a virtual private network (VPN) for your company (or have your trusted IT provider do it). A VPN will allow you to connect to your company’s network as if you were in the office, encryption and all.
- Take along your own mobile hotspot to connect via cellular. Most smartphones can now double as personal hotspots. Just be sure it's allowed by your carrier and you stay under your data allowance. Here are detailed instructions for several popular smartphones.
There are many factors an investor considers before funding an early stage company. But by proving your dedication to keeping your vital IT systems securely running, you also prove your dedication to using an investor’s money wisely.
What else do you do to protect your valuable data while using hotel WiFi? Share your tips in the comments section below.
Learn more about important IT considerations early stage biotech and life science companies should be aware of in our free guide – After the Seed: Planning IT Investment for Early-Stage Biotech Companies.