Shared office spaces have become very popular for startups and entrepreneurs. You can find them in most downtown areas.
The range of amenities they offer differs greatly but they all have what is absolutely required for a business: space for a computer and internet access.
We see a lot of these users plugging in the provided network jack or connecting to the Wi-Fi and conducting business as usual, not thinking about the security of the shared network they are connecting to. Once connected, you’re opening a gateway for outsiders to gain access to your computer’s data or to watch your network traffic.
The severity of the threat depends on how the shared office space provider has implemented their network. Sometimes they segregate all users and sometimes not. Our opinion is that it is better to be safe than sorry.
When users are connecting directly to the shared network we recommend that each user’s firewall is configured properly to close as many points of entry as possible. We also install and configure a VPN service on each user’s computer. A VPN service will encrypt all data between the computer and the VPN server it is connecting to, making it impossible for anyone to intercept the traffic locally. A per-user VPN is also good because it can be used in coffee shops or any other untrusted network.
When we are setting up 2 – 10 computers in a shared office space, we’ll install a wireless router capable of connecting to a VPN service. The router can protect both wired and wireless traffic the same way a per-user VPN does but does not require connecting the VPN.
If you are any network resources in a shared office space such as a printer or scanner, it may be required to set up special routing to ensure you are still able to communicate with it after connecting to a VPN service.