There’s No Such Thing As Free WiFi

The principle, „There’s no such thing as a free lunch“ was popularized by economist Milton Friedman to describe the opportunity cost that must be relinquished for the „free goods/services“ a person receives in exchange. Thus, it isn’t free, obvious enough.

But who has time for lunch these days? I can go weeks without eating lunch, but only a few hours without Internet…for business purposes of course. Having recognized this, organizations of all kinds and sizes are providing their guests/clients/vendors with „free“ WiFi access. But this comes at a cost. Let’s enumerate some of them:

1) Cost of sufficient bandwidth for both the business and guest networks
2) Purchasing a gateway device that can manage wireless guest access
3) Cost of configuration/install/management of guest network
4) Liability of a guest introducing malicious threats to the network
5) Liability of a guest using the wireless access for illegal activities

Woah, those last two might be enough to scare off any business from deploying a wireless guest access! And if you can’t afford to do it right, it can really cost you in the future. But businesses might not have a choice. Free WiFi has become so ubiquitous, that it’s synonymous with, „Free Chips at a Mexican Restaurant”. It’s a prerequisite for playing ball [as explored by Stephen Dubner of Freaknomics].

For the guest, the costs are a little more obscure and contingent upon how the Captive Portal is set-up, but here’s a few items a user „pays for“ with either time or information:

1) Watch an advertisement (either static or video)
2) Opt-in to a mailing list
3) Enter personal information (form)
4) Authenticate through social media (allowing some data access)

As Derek Powazek points out, the saying „If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product“ is incorrect. The users of the service are receiving a benefit as well as the business owners. It’s a symbiotic relationship, each taking their own risks for a return. But what I fear is the lack of informed consent. That is, both businesses and consumers may not fully understand the potential risk exposure.

Potential Risks For Guests: Companies can collect data and use that at their own volition. This is often spelled out in the terms of use agreement, but if the network is unencrypted, devices can even be hacked into! This can lead to Identity Theft which is one of the most severe threats to a user on the Internet.

Potential Risks for Businesses: There are numerous, but I’ll focus on 3.

1) Exposure– If the guest access network isn’t properly segmented (separated) from the business network, then it can expose it to a host of threats, from data theft to bringing down the network.
2) Network Saturation: If not properly managed, a guest network might „use“ all of a company’s available bandwidth, bringing productivity to a halt.
3) Company Liability – If a company cannot properly audit user activity on the network, then it may open itself up to a litany of legal recourse. Steps to prevent illegal activity (whether copyright infringement or otherwise) should be implemented, or at minimum businesses should be able to produce an audit trail of user activity for indemnification.

Endian’s security gateway appliances are designed to provide all of the tools for setting-up a fully automated wireless guest access that protects both the business and the user, minimizing risk and cost. 

To learn more about turning your business into a „HotSpot“, visit us at or write us at