Is Your Wireless Network Secure?

by: Jeremy Whittaker

Networking professionals are encouraging people to think twice about wireless network security. You might be thinking I use WEP-128 bit encryption with MAC address filtering, I’m safe. Or you may be you’ve never even heard of WEP, if this is the case you might want to unplug your wireless access point immediately. But then again look at the bright side at least you don’t have the false sense of security that your network is secure. Perhaps you are the smart guy who knows how insecure wireless networks are. You too are at just an equal risk!

Your computer consultant might be partially right when they say WEP will protect your network. It will protect your network from casual snooping but that is about it. Last year the FBI was able to crack a WEP protected network in less than 3 minutes with tools widely available on the internet. Since then it’s been downhill for WEP.

At this point you might be thinking, “Oh well, someone gets on my network and uses the internet”. This is completely false. If someone has gone through the process of getting on your network chances are the only thing they want is not internet access. Any computer security professional will tell you that physical access to the network is 95% of the security battle. Once this has been accomplished you can consider all of your data compromised. Customer invoices, customer data, credit card numbers and passwords to financial institutions will all be in the hands of a hacker. One in many methods can be used to gain access to your personal data, whether it’s through Key loggers, Trojans, or just by sniffing your plaintext network traffic.

Maybe, just maybe, I have not convinced you of the insecurities of wireless networks. Let me tell you about another attack that hackers can use to gain access to your network. Let’s say your access points are completely locked down, to your knowledge. A user from your network goes and flips on their laptop while sitting in an airport terminal waiting for a plane. They see an available insecure wireless network so they click on it and connect. None of us have ever done this before right, itching to check their email one last time before heading out of town? Unbeknownst to them they have just clicked on a fake honeypot wireless network, set up by a rogue hacker that before they can even realize their machine is already being scanned. Picture for a moment that user could be anywhere, even sitting at a desk in your network. Just as long as the rogue access point is stronger than your AP’s radio signal you’re security is done.

May be you fall into the category of never setting up wireless networks because you read about their insecurities. How then can you be at risk? Just consider for a moment that a user in your organization fires up his wireless card. See’s a wireless network that is named XYZCorp after your company. So they connect to it and immediately a script is hammering their machine for security vulnerabilities. Once again they connected to a rogue access point setup by a hacker. Now you might be thinking. “C’mon you must have to be a computer genius to find and run these tools.” Think again, thanks to the kind people over at all these tools can be downloaded in one big happy ISO file. Burned to a CD as an image and bang you’re done, ready to take a drive to the nearest business and start sniffing credit card numbers. Everything wrapped into a nice package just waiting for the next script kiddy to start running the programs. You may be thinking ok this is a major problem so what should I do? Give up my organizations ability to use wireless networks? This isn’t exactly what we are saying. A newer wireless security technology has taken over in 2004 called WPA. It is more secure than WEP. And so far tools are not as readily available to hack your network. But consider the following. WEP was ratified in the late 1990’s less than six years later it was exploited. This is typical of almost every computer technology. It is only a matter of time before technologies are exploited. Just always remember Security is a multi-tiered companywide responsibility. From providing physical security to web site security all matters should be considered serious and not taken lightly. So before you grab a wireless access point and slap it in your network, I urge you to think twice.

You may think you are in a sinking boat because you are a small organization not able to implement the latest technologies and afford the newest access points. Or maybe you cannot afford to pay an IT staff over 100k-200k a year to maintain your medium size network. Executives at N2 Network Solutions say you should consider IT outsourcing or IT consulting. You can get Industry certified engineers on a project by project basis. Contractual relationships are also available to dump the responsibility of your network into their hands for a fraction of the price. To keep your small to medium size network performing like a Fortune 500 machine invest the capital and secure your assets.