What Price Security?
By Mike Masnick, Fri May 06 23:15:00 GMT 2005

Stories about Wi-Fi security issues abound, but there have been very few solutions offered to individuals. More are starting to show up, but do individuals value Wi-Fi security enough to pay for solutions?

With so many stories about the ability to sniff packets across Wi-Fi networks, and recent coverage concerning so-called "evil twin networks" (over-hyped or not) it appears that plenty of people probably know that using Wi-Fi involves some level of security risks. So, why aren't that many solutions?

Wi-Fi hotspot aggregator Boingo has offered a VPN solution for customers, but that only applies to the group of people willing to pay large monthly fees to access hotspots. HotSpotVPN is a small independent provider of VPN solutions to protect Wi-Fi usage, but it has mostly had the market to itself for a while. The new entrant is JiWire, who has just released a slick looking security solution that uses a slightly different technology than HotSpotVPN. While HotSpotVPN charges nearly $9 per month, JiWire is looking to be the low cost provider at only $5 per month.

However, neither solution seems to get very much attention -- which has some people asking why? Security is a known problem, and here's a solution. So why aren't people buying? There are a few potential answers. First, there still are some people who don't know about the security risks -- or the solutions that are out there. Second, many of the more regular hotspot users have VPN service via their employers, meaning they have little need for an additional solution. The two biggest causes, though, are probably price and perceived risk. People have a difficult time judging the real risk they face from using a hotspot -- and many assume that even if people can see what they're doing, they "have nothing to hide." Even if they are concerned about the potential, it often seems like the risk of actually having someone sniff your packets is pretty low. Combine this with a significant monthly fee, and many hotspot users probably just don't think it's worth it. This is especially true for the "casual" hotspot user. It's the same reason that many of the hotspot providers had trouble signing up monthly subscribers. If you're not going to use the service on a regular basis, it's tough to justify spending a monthly fee on it.

While people know that security is important, it's still very difficult to get people to spend on individual security solutions. People use anti-virus programs and firewalls because they come with their computer or are available as a free download. Getting people to pay for security software is difficult, often because people don't feel comfortable paying to fix what is basically a flaw in a system they already bought. In other words, people want the security solutions built in -- rather than something you have to pay for and install. Luckily, plenty of work is being done to build more security into Wi-Fi. Until then, though, while it's nice to have more security options, it seems unlikely that they'll become all that popular.