Wireless LANs Can Be a Major Security Problem

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According to research conducted by Gartner Inc., through 2008, 70 percent of successful wireless local area network (WLAN) attacks will be due to the misconfiguration of WLAN access points (APs) and client software. To combat this type of attack, security for WLANs and personal digital assistants (PDAs) in companies must be driven by updated security policies that address the unique demands of the mobile workplace.

“Whether hackers are able to enter a company’s WLAN through an unprotected AP or through a peer workstation, once they are associated with the network, they will be difficult to detect because they may not be visible in or near the network site,” said John Pescatore, vice president and Gartner fellow. “A clever hacker will play it safe and use the company’s resources quietly, and as a result, may never be found.”

To protect themselves, businesses must make sure that employees or hackers don’t install unauthorized wireless APs on the network and that APs are configured securely. In dense environments, such as urban areas or multi-tenant office buildings, companies have to make sure that their users don’t connect to other companies’ networks. The least expensive, and least effective, way of doing this is to buy a wireless sniffer handheld and walk the perimeter of the network. The most expensive, and most secure, is to install a separate set of wireless intrusion detection sensors.


“Businesses should use sniffers to demonstrate potential exposure problems to management, especially to the management that funds security problems,” Pescatore said. “Sniffer walks should not be attempted as an ongoing survey method, but should be kept on standby. If rogue WLAN activity is detected by network monitoring systems, individual members of the IT staff can be dispatched, to act as trackers, to hone in on unauthorized signal sources.”

Gartner says that companies will get the most efficient WLAN intrusion detection protection from a vendor-independent dedicated sensor investment. The overwhelming advantage of this method is that all WLAN traffic can be detected regardless of the equipment and vendors involved.


This type of attack presents a potential opportunity for those certified in wireless LANs. For more information on the training and certification available for a Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) visit http://www.cwne.com.


For more information, visit http://www.gartner.com/us/itsecurity.

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