Free Wi-Fi: A Client Convenience that Could Upend a Practice

Feb 28, 2020

Most retail centers offer free wireless, and consumers have come to expect free customer Wi-Fi wherever they go. It’s handy and flexible. Quick-serve restaurants generate revenue by promoting it; the supermarket has free Wi-Fi; and banks are turning their waiting areas into café-type lounges with Wi-Fi.

So, what about in-office Wi-Fi access for clients? Wouldn’t it be convenient if, when meeting with a client for a tax appointment, the client could access a missing statement via the internet and print it out? Why not offer free Wi-Fi access in accounting offices? Unfortunately, client convenience is not the only consideration. 

First, at a minimum, a customer or client Wi-Fi network would have to be separate from the network that your business runs on. If visitors are allowed access to the “in-house” network, it opens up the potential to compromise the CPA’s client files. In addition, this Wi-Fi service should be a secure customer network (password-protected, the user must agree to certain legal terms, use of two-factor authentication, etc.). After all, our clients could be accessing bank accounts and other sensitive personal data over the network.

Next, you would need a firewall to block data from being shared based on software security rules. Even though it would be a separate network, it’s still connected to your business. It should have a virtual private network so data on it is encrypted (encryption hides the IP address and protects against hackers and cybercriminals).

With the utmost security in mind, create on/off times for the visitor network. Clients, and possibly others, should not be able to access that network when the office is closed.

In reality, though, many practitioners simply are not ready to manage client Wi-Fi. Most practitioners are not savvy enough or have the time to do all of the above (and more!), which would be required to maintain a safe client Wi-Fi system. Practitioners usually do not have the benefit of an IT department to regularly update passwords, continuously download the latest software updates, and make sure equipment does not need to be replaced to maintain safety. Relying on vendors can be a significant extra expense for most smaller firms. Worse yet, if you host a public network and someone uses it to transfer illegal private content, spread viruses, or procure certain private information, and it’s traced back to you, you could be in trouble.

The modern world is hooked on Wi-Fi, but there may be too much risk involved with free client Wi-Fi for many accounting offices. Our business data is the lifeblood of our business. Free Wi-Fi simply is not secure enough for many practitioners to risk their livelihood.


Rodger J. Krause, CPA, is a sole practitioner with Rodger Krause CPA Inc. in Wyomissing. He can be reached at rkrause@rodgerkrausecpa.com.

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