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SECURITY FOR THE WIRELESS NETWORK
SEPTEMBER 2007

Security for the Wireless Network: The Ubiquity of Wireless Access
They’re convenient, and they’re seemingly everywhere. Wireless networks are taking our culture by storm. From businesses and homes to public spaces, it’s easier than ever to work using Wi-Fi. With the help of today’s technology, almost anybody with basic computing skills cansuccessfully set up a wireless network. It's easy – so easy in fact, that most people don’t fully grasp exactly how their data will be transmitted, and why there are inherent security risks associated with wireless. It has been estimated that approximately 40–50% of all wireless network/ data/access users have either inadequate network security or no security at all. 1 Whether using a home network,corporate Wi-Fi, or a public hotspot, wireless networking is a convenience that can come with a steep price tag.

1

informit.com, March 2005

WatchGuard Technologies, Inc.

www.watchguard.com

The Price Paid for Wireless
The results of a 2005 study done by The Diffusion Group found that one of the primary reasons small-tomedium businesses choose Wi-Fi is its cost-effectiveness.However, according to this study, the security implications of using wireless networks can quickly erase any benefits that Wi-Fi may offer. A business working with sensitive or private information and operating on an insecure network can open itself up to serious litigation in the event of a security breach. 2 Even in 2007 this data remains consistent and therefore the threat persists, making it easierfor more sophisticated attacks.

Figure 1: Security threats to wireless LANs

From a street in any metropolitan business district, it can be shockingly easy to access any number of wireless networks. In an unscientific “test drive” conducted by Computerworld New Zealand, a casual stroll through Wellington’s business district indicated that only about two-thirds of the business networksavailable were secured by any kind of encryption..3 This cavalier attitude toward wireless security can lead to serious problems for any company in the long run.

Encryption in Action
There’s a lot of talk about encryption protocols and how important they are, but can they really keep a wireless network safe? The 802.11 specification is a family of protocols developed for wireless LAN technology.Let's look at the 802.11 protocols in use today, what they do, and how they stack up.

2 3

IT Observer, August 2005 Wireless Security Shaping Up, But Still Some Leakage, Computerworld New Zealand, August 2005

www.watchguard.com

page 2

Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) Designed for Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs), WEP provides wireless security equivalent to that of a wired LAN. Whileit is still considered to be a basic deterrent, it has several known flaws that any moderately skilled hacker could exploit with just a little time and a few tools. At the March 2005 meeting of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) in Los Angeles, a team of FBI agents was easily able to hack into a WEP-protected network in approximately three minutes. While WEP is regarded as thebaseline from which subsequent, more effective protocols were developed, today it is primarily used with older equipment. In order to avoid the security issues presented by WEP, a switch to either WPA or WPA2 is recommended. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) Built upon the foundation of WEP, WPA was created in 2002 to bring enhanced LAN security to the wireless market. WPA uses Temporal Key IntegrityProtocol (TKIP) encryption, using the same RC4 algorithm as WEP for encryption, but adding sophisticated key management and effective message integrity checking. Developed in conjunction with the IEEE 802.11 Standards Working Group for WLANs, WPA effectively replaced WEP and the other security features of the original 802.11 standard. WPA offers dynamic key encryption and mutual authentication. It...
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