WLANs go feral in corporate undergrowth

DIY Wi-Fi causes security headache

Frustrated employees are taking IT into their own hands by installing DIY Wi-Fi access points (APs) in their offices while their IT departments don’t even notice, according to Gartner. A rogue access point can leave an organisation’s network wide open and once on the network, an unauthorised user could go undetected.

Speaking at the IT Security Summit in London yesterday, John Girard, Gartner research veep, told delegates that organisations must make sure that employees or hackers do not install unauthorised wireless APs on their networks and that their APs are configured securely. Monitoring WLAN traffic "in the air" is the most effective means of detecting unauthorised systems, he added.

Spencer Parker, European technical director for AirDefense, a company that manufactures wireless intrusion detection sensors, echoes this view. He told The Register that organisations serious about their Wi-Fi security “must have the ability to control their airspace using a technique of passive scanning of all wireless channels and have termination [of connection] ability should the need arise".

The least expensive, but least effective, way of achieving this is to buy a handheld wireless sniffer (such as those offered by AirMagnet, Fluke Networks or NAI/McAfee) and patrol the perimeter of the organisation's Network. The most expensive, but most secure, method is to install a separate set of wireless intrusion detection sensors such as those offered by AirDefense.

On the subject of using tools to monitor your airspace, Parker added, “Your airspace become a known quantity and you can only secure against a known quantity.”

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi users are enjoying free Internet access in most cities as 50 per cent * of organisations still fail to use any security at all on their Wi-Fi access points.

It is widely recognised within the industry that the current Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) method of securing Wi-Fi networks is too weak and can be hacked within a few hours using freeware tools readily available on the web. The new emerging security standard, WPA from the Wi-Fi Alliance, seeks to make Wi-Fi networks more secure; but this will only bear fruit when equipment supporting WPA becomes readily available and then only if IT managers turn on this security feature. ®

* Strategic Planning Assumption: Through 2007, there will be unsecured WLANs in more than 50 per cent of all organisations and in more than 80 per cent of all WLAN-enabled homes (0.6 probability). Gartner, September 2004.

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