Open WiFi Continues To Invite Disaster
Wireless internet access is becoming more and more common throughout our environment. Increasing numbers of homes and businesses rely on wireless networking to provide the backbone of their data infrastructure, but too many users still ignore the security implications of their data passing over potentially insecure connections. Since the dawn of the WiFi standard, various security measures have been available to help prevent unauthorized access and data collection on wireless networks. Shockingly, there are still many WiFi installations that fail to implement security, and the consequences can be quite disastrous.
Initially, the primary mode of wireless security that was available on most access points was an encryption standard known as WEP. Utilizing a configurable key, WEP encryption is intended to secure data by encoding it in a way that only devices with the appropriate key could decipher the message. While this sounds like a secure way of transmitting data, the reality is that because wireless signals can be captured by nearly anyone within range of the signal, the key being used must itself be secured to prevent an unauthorized user from discovering it. It didn’t take long for WEP security to be unraveled and cracked, leaving scores of wireless networks vulnerable.
The current standard of wireless encryption is a system called WPA / WPA2. Engineered specifically to protect the unique vulnerabilities of wireless data transfer, the newest systems are indeed secure and have yet to be cracked. You’d be hard pressed to find a wireless device that doesn’t support the latest encryption standards, yet many installations simply don’t have encryption enabled. Many users, particularly in home environments, fail to realize that not securing their wireless network is akin to going on a lengthy vacation and leaving your front door wide open.
Consider the fate of one Buffalo, N.Y. homeowner who had installed a wireless router, but had become too frustrated with the process involved in setting up security on it. It never occurred to him that he’d be surrounded by federal agents in his own home, being accused of downloading child pornography via his home internet connection. The offense was actually committed by his neighbor, who had been surreptitiously using the man’s open WiFi access point to connect to the internet.Continued on the next page