Results of the iPass Mobile Security Report 2017 reveal that 40 percent of organisations believe that C-level executives, including CEOs, are most at risk of being hacked when working outside the office. Cafés and coffee shops were ranked the number one high-risk venue by 42 percent of respondents, from a list that included airports (30 percent), hotels (16 percent), exhibition centres (7 percent) and airplanes (4 percent).

Compiling the responses of 500 organisations from the US, UK, Germany and France, the annual report* provides an overview of how companies are dealing with the trade-off between security and the need to enable a mobile workforce.

Indeed, the vast majority (93 percent) of respondents said they were concerned about the security challenges posed by a growing mobile workforce. Almost half (47 percent) said they were ‘very’ concerned, up from 36 percent in 2016.

Furthermore, more than two thirds of organisations (68 percent) have chosen to ban employee use of free public Wi-Fi hotspots to some degree (compared to 62 percent in 2016), while 33 percent of organisations ban employee use at all times, up from 22 percent in 2016.

“The grim reality is that C-level executives are by far at the greatest risk of being hacked outside of the office. They are not your typical 9-5 office worker. They often work long hours, are rarely confined to the office, and have unrestricted access to the most sensitive company data imaginable. They represent a dangerous combination of being both highly valuable and highly available, therefore a prime target for any hacker,” said Raghu Konka, vice president of engineering at iPass.

“Cafés and coffee shops are everywhere and offer both convenience and comfort for mobile workers, who flock to these venues for the free high speed internet as much as for the coffee. However, cafés invariably have lax security standards, meaning that anyone using these networks will be potentially vulnerable.”

Man-in-the-middle attacks, whereby an attacker can secretly relay and even alter communications without the mobile user knowing, were identified by 69 percent of organisations as being of concern when their employees use public Wi-Fi. However, more than half of respondents also chose a lack of encryption (63 percent), unpatched operating systems (55 percent), and hotspot spoofing (58 percent) as chief concerns.

“Organisations are more aware of the mobile security threat than ever, but they still struggle to find the balance between security and productivity,” continued Konka. “While businesses understand that free public Wi-Fi hotspots can empower employees to do their job and be more productive, they are also fearful of the potential security threat. Man-in-the-middle attacks were identified as the primary threat, but the entire mobile attack surface is getting larger. Organisations must recognize this fact and do their best to ensure that their mobile workers are securely connected.”

“Sadly, in response to this growing threat, the majority of organisations are choosing to ban first and think later. They ignore the fact that, in an increasingly mobile world, there are actually far more opportunities than threats. Rather than give in to security threats and enforce bans that can be detrimental or even unenforceable, businesses must instead ensure that their mobile workers have the tools to get online and work securely at all times.”

*The research was carried out by independent market research company, Vanson Bourne, during March 2017. The sample comprised 500 CIO and IT decision makers from the US (200), UK (100), Germany (100) and France (100).

Highlights from the report and regional trends include:

  • The US (98 percent) is most concerned by the increasing number of mobile security challenges – compared to France (88 percent), Germany (89 percent) and the UK (92 percent)
  • Nearly one in 10 UK organisations (8 percent) said that they have no security concerns when employees use public Wi-Fi hotspots. In contrast, this figure is one percent in the US and Germany, and two percent in France
  • Similarly, UK organisations are the least likely to ban the use of public Wi-Fi. Forty-four percent said that they have no plans to do so, as opposed to eight percent in Germany, 10 percent in the US and 15 percent in France
  • Worldwide, 75 percent of enterprises still allow or encourage the use of MiFi devices. In France, however, 29 percent of businesses have banned them due to security concerns