Worry-free wireless

What’s the easiest way to hack into a company’s unprotected wireless network? Pick up a few cheap pieces of equipment and sit in the parking lot. There are many stories of people listening in on corporate networks, but that hasn’t made many wireless LAN users take notice. By the end of last year, Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. predicted that 30 per cent of companies would put themselves at risk of serious security exposures by using wireless networks.

Here are a few ways to make a wireless LAN more secure.

– Enable the security features that come with the wireless network. Yes, the wired equivalent privacy (WEP) standard for the popular 802.11 LANs has been broken into, but a little security is better than no security at all.

– Don’t use default or obvious passwords or keys.

– Register the unique media access control (MAC) addresses of the network interface cards that access your network. It is possible to fake a MAC address, but again, something is better than nothing.

– Secure the access points by putting them on switched network ports, as Gartner suggests, or by putting them outside a firewall.

– Monitor the network.

– Monitor physical security. Is there anyone sitting in the parking lot trying to listen in on the network?

– If your applications are Web-based, use secure socket layer encryption. This adds an extra layer of security.

– Use a wireless virtual private network (VPN) or other tunneling protocol.