The days of being tethered to a phone cord to be able to access the internet or tap into a company network are long gone. The advent of Wi-Fi, the technology that allows electronic devices to exchange data wirelessly via radio waves, is having hot spots sprouting up everywhere, making it easier than ever before for people to stay connected on the go.
With many companies allowing employees to bring their own Wi-Fi-enabled devices to work (a phenomenon referred to as Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD), WiF-i is rapidly invading the workplace too.
According to the
In late 2012, computer networking corporation
New security challenges
"While Wi-Fi is affordable, easy to install and allows users to be more flexible, it poses new security challenges too," said
One of those potential vulnerabilities that are being taken advantage of is an intrinsic part of Wi-Fi's architecture. "Whenever a wireless access point or gateway is set up, it creates something called a service set identifier (SSID). This is identifying information, which allows computers and devices to find the particular Wi-Fi network and connect to it," O'Reilly explained. "The problem is that, as Wi-Fi doesn't require any cords between a device and an internet connection, attackers who are within range will be able to intercept an unprotected connection or, in the event that it is secure, hack into it."
Some of the wireless threats to small businesses include methods with nicknames such as "the evil twin" and "the promiscuous client".
"Despite these humorous names, these threats are really serious and can have dire consequences for your business, putting your precious enterprise data in the hands of people with malicious intent, or even into the hands of your competitors," said O'Reilly.
The evil twin
The evil twin, also known as WiPhishing, is a rogue access point that replicates the name of your secure network or of a hot spot. If the user mistakenly signs into it, it captures his network data or attacks the computer. The promiscuous client is very similar; it exploits the tendency of Wi-Fi-enabled devices with 802.11 wireless cards to look for the strongest signal by creating an irresistibly strong signal.
Wi-Fi isn't exempt from viruses either. "In fact, the MVW-Wi-Fi worm is specifically designed to target wireless devices," O'Reilly said. "It gains access to laptops via wireless networks, then forwards itself to adjacent wireless networks, and so on. Alarmingly enough, several surveys reveal that nearly two-thirds of wireless users admit to using an unsecured network, which makes it really easy for hackers to get in there."
When an organisation's network is left exposed due to insecure wireless LAN devices, it means more than just the financial implications of having your organisation's network compromised and rendering your company's investment in IT useless. "A breach can adversely impact your company's reputation and it can potentially also impact on the company's proprietary and regulatory information, which can have dire legal ramifications," O'Reilly warned.
O'Reilly said that there is a way to guard against wireless threats and to ensure that your company continues to comply with regulations. "A really comprehensive wireless monitoring system will provide complete protection against wireless threats, policy compliance monitoring, robust performance monitoring, and location tracking."
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