Get Ahead With Wireless LAN Security Certification
I love to write grant proposals. In September my college received a wireless mobile lab from Hewlett-Packard containing 35 wireless laptops. One of the benefits associated with obtaining the grant was an all-expense-paid trip to San Diego to meet with other grant recipients. The meeting included a “field trip” via a bus ride from our downtown hotel to San Diego City College. The distance was no more than a mile. As I sat on the bus, I decided to monitor wireless LANs utilizing a great free tool called NetStumbler (www.netstumbler.com). During the ride, I was able to identify around 50 wireless networks.
NetStumbler provides a great deal of information about wireless networks. This information includes a network’s identification name (SSID), the access point’s media access control (MAC) address, broadcast channel and whether or not wired equivalent protocol (WEP) is being used to encrypt the data traveling to and from the access point. Not surprisingly, of the 50 or so wireless networks I found during this short trip, more than half were configured in their default condition. It is easy to find out if they are configured in this fashion. Obvious clues for default settings include:
- The access point is broadcasting the default SSID.
- MAC filtering isn’t enabled.
- WEP isn’t enabled.
- Broadcast frequency is set for Channel 6.
- The access point provides automatic IP addressing utilizing DHCP. Different access point manufacturers use different IP address scopes.
- You can access the administrative Web page using the default account name and password.
So what’s the big deal about using the default settings? Well, network managers spend a great deal of attention and money on firewalls to protect their companies’ valuable information resources from uninvited guests trying to access their networks via the Internet. As any qualified hacker will tell you, the best way to infiltrate a network isn’t by going through its firewall. There are just too many other easier routes. Wireless access provides the “low hanging fruit” hackers and crackers are so often noted for utilizing in their efforts to play unwanted network games.
Like other aspects of IT security, the key to gaining an upper hand is knowledge. For network administrators and engineers, learning about network security and achieving a recognized level of competency are important objectives. There are two certification paths that appear to define professional expertise in the area of wireless security.
Cisco Systems provides a vendor-specific education path with its “Qualified Specialist” certifications. Cisco currently offers two technical certifications. The Cisco Wireless LAN Support Specialist focuses on measuring the skills associated with operating and supporting a Cisco wireless LAN solution. The Cisco Wireless LAN Design Specialist focuses on the design skills associated with developing a Cisco wireless LAN solution. Each of these certifications, while not specifically focused on wireless LAN security, covers security issues in the respective exams.
Planet3 Wireless appears to be leading the way when it comes to wireless certifications. It provides a broad range of vendor-neutral certifications, including:
- Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA)
- Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP)
- Certified Wireless Analysis Professional (CWAP)
- Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE)
- Certified Wireless Network Trainer (CWNT)
Don’t let the fact that Planet3 Wireless is a relative newcomer serve as a basis for not considering its certifications. Having a variety of certifications, I’ve reached a point where I’m comfortable looking at certification programs more for what I’ve learned in my efforts to get certified than achieving the actual certification. As an education professional and trainer, I feel that the quality of the Planet3 Wireless courseware is exceptional. I have achieved the CWNA certification and am currently working on the CWSP certification. The information I’m learning as I wind my way through the course book is quite useful from both a theoretical and a practical standpoint.
From what I learned taking the CWNA exam and from what I’ve read in newsgroups about the CWSP exam, each truly measures knowledge of how to install, configure and implement security in a wireless LAN environment. The fact that these certifications are neutral has the advantage of exposing you to a variety of wireless hardware you are likely to encounter as you touch wireless networks.
As wireless LAN implementations continue to grow at an explosive rate, those qualifying as certified wireless professionals will have an upper hand in finding industry opportunities where wireless skills are needed.
Professor Steve Linthicum teaches computer network security and wireless courses at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif. His industry credentials include certifications from Microsoft (MCT, MCSE: Security), (ISC)2 (CISSP), CompTIA (A+, Network+, i-Net+, HTI+, Security+, CTT+), Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNA) and Citrix (CCA, CCEA).