Security Services and Enterprise Risk Analyst

A wireless network should be governed by the same – or equivalent – security standards as a wired one, says one expert. Eavesdropping on traffic and denial of service attacks are the two main risks associated with wireless networking technology.Simon Ho>Text

Wireless security is another component of network security, according to Simon Ho, security services and enterprise risk analyst at Deloitte & Touche. Ho was speaking on 802.11 wireless security at the Network World Conference and Expo held in Toronto last week.

Ho (no relation to this writer) said there are two types of wireless networks out there: peer-to-peer and infrastructure networks that require access points to a computer.

Eavesdropping on traffic and denial of service attacks are the two main risks associated with wireless networking technology, said Ho. Other threats he listed include impersonation and device vulnerability. As well, there are security risks associated with the 802.11 wireless standard, he said.

“Number one is the ability to ID access points,” the analyst said.

According to Ho, there are two ways to identify all network access points…the first is to listen to the broadcast. “Some access points broadcast their presence so people can find them and connect to the network.”

Broadcasting of a network’s signal is known as a Service Set Identification (SSID), which is the network name for a company’s wireless LAN.

According to Ho, SSID was only meant to link one network to another, and not to be used as a security measure.

The other way to identify access points is to wait for someone to come into a network and associate themselves with an access point even if a SSID is not being broadcast. “Once you know who is talking, you can start sending signals to kick them off the network,” said Ho.

Solutions to this issue include disabling the SSID broadcast, confining broadcast areas of a company’s wireless network, and keeping an organization’s wireless gateway within a demilitarized zone.

Ho also noted that organizations do not change the name of their SSIDs. “By knowing the network [name] and who is attached to it, anyone can look-up known vulnerabilities,” he said. Ho suggests companies immediately replace the default SSID that comes with the access point with something creative and not easily linked to the organization.

Another risk associated with the 802.11 standard centres around its lack of authentication mechanisms. Ho said this can be overcome by using a third party authentication device such as a RADIUS server that validates users.

This ensures if a device gets stolen no one can use it to access to the network. He also suggested that organizations treat its WLAN as if it were the Internet and should place a VPN tunnel over it as a “second layer of protection, so sniffing would be difficult.”

Introduced in 1997, 802.11 became the first standard available for widespread use of wireless. In 1999, extensions were created to 802.11, specifically 802.11 a and b, that allowed two different ways for wireless devices to talk to each other.

Two years ago 802.11g became available, which was a faster version of b and backwards compatible.

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