The warning for businesses followed an examination of the law by international law firm Charles Russell LLP. While there has been no reported litigation, the legal firm said it would only be a matter of time before poor security practices by U.K. companies would land them in legal tussles.
Many companies, it said, do not have adequate policies for staff sending unsecured data over public networks. It warned firms could face serious legal and commercial consequences if its clients' or business partners' confidential data is exposed.
"Hotels and waiting rooms are full of people rummaging through the contents of each others' laptops," said Robin Bynoe, partner at Charles Russell LLP.
Bynoe said that too few business people understand the risks that Wi-Fi brings. "That means not only managers but the employees on the move. The technical risks can be avoided by installing and using the necessary systems. The legal risks can also be minimised, by installing the necessary legal wording," he said.
Bynoe added that whenever Wi-Fi access is available, there are several organizations 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 and data is stolen, you could end up shouldering the whole of the liability for the loss," said Bynoe.
Graeme Powell, European managing director of wireless provider iBAHN, who worked with the legal firm on the study, said it was time for companies to put wireless security at the top of the agenda.
"Corporate businesses should have secure VPN schemes to protect against exactly this type of risk," said Powell. "Ignoring Wi-Fi security for your remote workers is akin to putting a sign outside the door and saying 'take what you want.'"