Is It Safe For Churches to Offer Wi-Fi on Their Network?

Many churches already have wireless computer networks, also known as Wi-Fi, installed in their buildings. They know that having Wi-Fi means flexibility for the church staff and accessibility for the church’s volunteers and visitors. But do the leaders at those churches understand the dangers that can come with having an unsecured Wi-Fi network?

In an article in the July 2013 issue of Christian Computing Magazine, IT expert Nick Nicholaou related the story of a church in [St. Louis] Missouri that had all of its computers and servers subpoenaed by the authorities. Turns out the church’s public Wi-Fi had no password protection which allowed someone to use it to download and distribute child pornography. When authorities investigated the case, they identified the church’s IP address as the one through which the illegal content was distributed. Nicholoau went on to note that the authorities can keep the church’s computers for as long as three months while they determine that they’re clean. Since then we’ve heard from another knowledgeable source, that the confiscation period could even stretch to years.

Just imagine the cost of replacing not only all of your church’s IT equipment, but all of the data stored on it as well. In addition to the cost of the equipment and its installation what about the cost of staff down time waiting for the data to be replaced and your church to get up and running again?

We also know of a church whose unsecured Wi-Fi signals are so strong that they spill out at least 30 yards into the church’s parking lot. Someone wanting to conduct illegal activities using a computer wouldn’t even have to enter the building to go about their nefarious activities—they don’t even have to leave the comfort of their car.

How often is security sacrificed on the altar of IT convenience at your church? For church staff who work with laptop or tablet computers, having Wi-Fi allows them increased flexibility in doing their jobs. But the inconvenience of having a strong password on your church’s Wi-Fi network is minimal. Usually once a network password is entered on a computer it doesn’t need to be re-entered again unless the password been changed.…some people will complain that requiring a password to get on your public Wi-Fi is a hassle. But as a church leader, your obligation to protect the church is greater than trying to keep everyone happy.

But the Wi-Fi network that your staff uses should be separate from the one that you intend for the public and your church’s visitors to use. While having a second Wi-Fi network adds some cost to your IT installation, it allows the private network that the staff uses to be the only one where one can access your church’s network data, printers or servers. But even a second, separate network for the public should have it’s own password—one that is changed periodically, perhaps monthly.

Churches generally are communities of trust. And the people who you’re most likely to trust with a password are those who attend your services. The password for your separate public Wi-Fi network could be shared with them via the bulletin or on screen on Sunday mornings. You could also put it on a central bulletin board. You want it where it is reasonably convenient to visitors to your church, but much less so to outsiders. Again, until it’s changed, a person’s computer will remember the password once it’s been entered correctly.

Nevertheless some people will complain that requiring a password to get on your public Wi-Fi is a hassle. But as a church leader, your obligation to protect the church is greater than trying to keep everyone happy.

Once people connect to any of your computer networks, you want them to enjoy the Internet safely. This includes staff as well as your visitors. Hardware is available that can be added to your network that can scan for emails that would be considered spam or that contain viruses. It can also filter which websites people can visit—more importantly, which ones they can’t visit when using your connection. Filtering hardware and software are especially important if you make computers available for children or teens to use at church. By blocking young users from visiting questionable websites such as those that offer pornography or those that attack unwary user’s computers, you demonstrate your concern to protect young and older users of your connection to the Internet.

As each year goes by you can expect your staff, volunteers and visitors to continue to find new and useful ways of using the Internet. Providing ways for them to connect at your church holds the promise of new and exciting ways of doing ministry. We just need to remember to apply our Lord’s admonition in Matthew 10:16, Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Source: Church Administrative Professionals