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Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's Wi-Fi

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The number of workers in the UK who admitted they "hijack" the wireless connection of others has gone up from six per cent to 11 per cent over the last 12 months. Globally the figure is 12 per cent*, with big increases all over the world.

That's among the findings of the second annual survey of remote working commissioned by networking giant Cisco Systems, which paints a picture of general (and increasing) slackness about IT security threats. The poll of 2,000 remote workers and IT pros from ten countries, including the UK, found that many remote workers were happy to risk opening suspicious emails and attachments. Nearly half (48 per cent) admitted to opening dodgy emails in the UK, something of a black spot for the issue. The US scored better (by comparison, at least) with 27 per cent of those surveyed admitting that they exposed themselves to this risk.

Remote workers feel less urgency to be vigilant in their online behavior, with 56 per cent stating that the internet is becoming safer, an increase of eight percentage points from last year. This "happy factor", most pronounced in the world's fastest-growing economies such as Brazil, India and China, is having some undesirable consequences.

Punters half know that they are safer behind a corporate system, but that doesn't stop them from engaging in all manner of bad behaviour. As well as opening unsolicited emails and hijacking Wi-Fi connections, remote workers are in the habit of loaning out work computers to friends and family. Unsurprisingly they also use work computers for personal use, such as downloading music and visiting social networking sites. Worse still, from a security perspective, many are in the habit of accessing work files from personal devices that haven't been screened by IT departments.

Cisco reckons the reasons why punters flout corporate security policies when working from home are largely psychological.

"While working at home, people tend to let their guard down more than they do at the office, so adhering to security policies doesn't always intuitively seem applicable or as necessary in the private confines of one's home," Stewart said. "The blurring of the lines between work and home, and between business lives and personal lives, presents a growing challenge for businesses seeking to capitalise on the productivity benefits of the remote workforce."

More than half of respondents (55 per cent) to the survey reckon that remote workers are becoming less diligent about online security, an increase of 11 percentage points over the last 12 months. As well as the US and the UK the survey, conducted by market research firm InsightExpress, involved quizzing punters in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, China, India, Australia, and Brazil. The sample countries were chosen to represent a diverse set of social and business cultures.

The number of remote workers is growing worldwide, with as many as 46.6m staffers expected to be spending at least one day working at home by 2011, according to estimates from analyst firm Gartner.

Cisco is calling for greater security diligence so that firms and individuals can enjoy the benefits of remote working without exposing their organisations to security risks. Security awareness and education are at least as important as technology in these efforts, Cisco notes. ®

*The reasons offered for squatting a neighbour's wireless connection provide an insight into the thinking of remote workers. Answers offered in the survey included: "I needed it because I was in a bind", "It's more convenient than using my wireless connection", "I can't tell if I'm using my own or my neighbour's wireless connection" and "My neighbour doesn't know, so it's OK".

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