Network Security in a Shared Workspace

Securing a business network seems straight forward when you have your own office or building that hosts only your employees. For many start-ups and smaller businesses, their physical office might be a shared space with a shared network. This raises the question of how these businesses can work securely, reduce risk, without spending a fortune on networking services. 

Many shared workspaces provide basic networking services to the companies that work in their space. This usually comes in the form of a password protected network that is shared among all companies onsite, a guest network and additional services for a price.

While the password on the network provides basic security, there is little to prevent someone from sharing this password with anyone. If it was shared with someone looking to attack the network, it would be relatively simple for them to get on the network and using a “Packet Sniffer”(an application that can review network traffic) to sit and watch for any unencrypted information that would be useful to them.

Depending on your organization and your needs, having a meeting with the IT department at your shared workspace would be a great help. It will allow you to get some information on the security on their network and if needed you can review the prices of the services they offer. Having a private or virtual LAN (vlan) set up for your company is something many of these workspaces can provide. However, it will come at a cost; which depending on how you use the network could be overkill for your company. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself before having a private network or segregated vlan set up for your company: 

1) Do we have any onsite servers in our shared workspace?
2) What risks are there in using a shared network? 
3) What is my budget for a secure network?

These questions can help you frame and make a choice regarding your network. 

If you do not have onsite servers and instead use a cloud provider, having a separate network to segregate your services from other people on the network. This risk would no longer be applicable to your company’s office network, as by using a cloud provider you have transferred this risk to another company.

There are many risks for using a shared network that you do not directly control. You would not have the ability to change or update the devices and applications that oversee the network. Without controlling the network, you cannot prevent others from connecting to it and cannot prevent their actions on the network. Other users of this network could be participating in dangerous activities or visiting dangerous websites that could affect these users. Due to these risks of operating on a shared network, you need to secure yourself, your employees and your data.

Finally, what can you do to reduce these risks? The IT department of your shared workspace can provide you with your own segregated network that would reduce all the above risks, but is it really worth it? The cost could range, and there may be a need for additional set up costs. What cheaper alternatives can be used? 

The cheapest and most secure option for a small company would be to reduce the risks of working on a shared network by purchasing a reputable Virtual Private Network Service. Using a VPN effectively creates your own private network, and an end to end encryption. While not exactly similar to what the IT department would set up for a few hundred dollars a month, but instead for a few dollars a month. The use of a VPN is a practical alternative for a startup or smaller company that cannot afford to set up or maintain their own secure private network.

You would operate your business the same as before but would treat the network at your shared space, the same as a public network at an airport or a cafe. Not only does this reduce the risks of working on a shared network, but it also encrypts the information you are sending and receiving and would be much cheaper per month compared to purchasing your own private network. As well, making use of the built-in features on your devices, such as endpoint protection or antivirus and the build in firewalls in Mac or Windows OS’s are additional steps that can be taken to increase your security on the network.

As your company grows and risks change, you may eventually need your own private network. However, for many startups and small companies, this might not be within budget. For the time being, you can use a VPN to reduce risks on a shared network, secure your data in transit and help ensure peace of mind when it comes to your network security.