Lawyers warn of wi-fi legal risks

A warning was sent out by a leading law firm that companies who do not protect their employees and businesses, could face high legal costs from the threats encountered when using public wi-fi networks.

So far there has not been any cases in the UK in connection with such problems but law firm Charles Russell it is only a matter of time.

The problem occurs when starff access critical business systems and send unsecured data via public networks.

Robin Bynoe, partner at Charles Russell said, “The country’s hotels and waiting rooms are full of people rummaging through the contents of each others’ laptops.”

This browsing can be harm a business in many ways, from theft of data or intellectual property, to exposing third party, client or partner data. It isn’t just about the financial risks which may not be very significant in some instances, it is more to do with the risk to repuation.

An example of how damage can be caused is given by Bynoe where a lawyer who has sensitive information regarding a proposed takeover by a client could cause multi-million pound losses if they are leaked. This could affect the share price and the deal overall.

Bynoe said,”There is potentially enormous liability there.”

He said the problem needs to be addressed on two sides. Firstly companies must secure their devices and secondly they must introduce effective legalese into their business contracts.

Bynoe said, “Whenever wi-fi access is available, there are several organisations involved: the site owner, the service provider, the person with the laptop, their employer, the client or the contact with the valuable data. If yours is the only organisation that doesn’t have the necessary wording in all relevant contracts and data is stolen, you could end up shouldering the whole of the liability for the loss.”

He added there may also be liability if an individual suffers damages resulting from using their work laptop on a wi-fi network. If the employer approves of this behaviour, no action will be taken, so they won’t be aware of the risks. There companies should take steps to educate and protect their employees.

He continued, “It’s important employers tell employees about the risks they face.”

Graeme Powell, European managing director of iBAHN, providers of secure wi-fi networks for hotels said companies must play catch up regarding staff whose use of wireless working has overtaken their risk management.

Powell said, “Ignoring wi-fi security for your remote workers is akin to putting a sign outside the door and saying ‘take what you want’.”