Wireless security is the prevention of unauthorized access or damage to computers using wireless networks.
Wireless networks are very common, both for organizations and individuals. Many laptop computers have wireless cards pre-installed. The ability to enter a network while mobile has great benefits. However, wireless networking has many security issues. Crackers have found wireless networks relatively easy to break into, and even use wireless technology to crack into wired networks.
The risks to users of wireless technology have increased as the service has become more popular. There were relatively few dangers when wireless technology was first introduced. Crackers had not yet had time to latch on to the new technology and wireless was not commonly found in the work place. However, there are a great number of security risks associated with the current wireless protocols and encryption methods, and in the carelessness and ignorance that exists at the user and corporate IT level. Cracking methods have become much more sophisticated and innovative with wireless. Cracking has also become much easier and more accessible with easy-to-use Windows-based and Linux-based tools being made available on the web at no charge.
Types of unauthorized access
Unauthorized access to company wireless and wired networks can come from a number of different methods and intents. One of these methods is referred to as “accidental association”. When a user turns on a computer and it latches on to a wireless access point from a neighboring company’s overlapping network, the user may not even know that this has occurred. However, it is a security breach in that proprietary company information is exposed and now there could exist a link from one company to the other. This is especially true if the laptop is also hooked to a wired network.
“Malicious associations” are when wireless devices can be actively made by crackers to connect to a company network through their cracking laptop instead of a company access point (AP). These types of laptops are known as “soft APs” and are created when a cracker runs some software that makes his/her wireless network card look like a legitimate access point. Once the cracker has gained access, he/she can steal passwords, launch attacks on the wired network, or plant trojans. Since wireless networks operate at the Layer 2 level, Layer 3 protections such as network authentication and virtual private networks (VPNs) offer no barrier. Wireless 802.1x authentications do help with protection but are still vulnerable to cracking. The idea behind this type of attack may not be to break into a VPN or other security measures. Most likely the cracker is just trying to take over the client at the Layer 2 level
Non-traditional networks such as personal network Bluetooth devices are not safe from cracking and should be regarded as a security risk. Even barcode readers, handheld PDAs, and wireless printers and copiers should be secured. These non-traditional networks can be easily overlooked by IT personnel who have narrowly focused on laptops and access points.
A man-in-the-middle attacker entices computers to log into a computer which is set up as a soft AP (Access Point). Once this is done, the hacker connects to a real access point through another wireless card offering a steady flow of traffic through the transparent hacking computer to the real network. The hacker can then sniff the traffic. One type of man-in-the-middle attack relies on security faults in challenge and handshake protocols to execute a “de-authentication attack”. This attack forces AP-connected computers to drop their connections and reconnect with the cracker’s soft AP. Man-in-the-middle attacks are enhanced by software such as LANjack and AirJack, which automate multiple steps of the process. What once required some skill can now be done by script kiddies. Hotspots are particularly vulnerable to any attack since there is little to no security on these networks.
Denial of service
A Denial-of-Service attack (DoS) occurs when an attacker continually bombards a targeted AP (Access Point) or network with bogus requests, premature successful connection messages, failure messages, and/or other commands. These cause legitimate users to not be able to get on the network and may even cause the network to crash. These attacks rely on the abuse of protocols such as the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP).
Risks from crackers are sure to remain with us for any foreseeable future. The challenge for IT personnel will be to keep one step ahead of crackers. Members of the IT field need to keep learning about the types of attacks and what counter measures are available.
Counteracting security risks
There are many technologies available to counteract wireless network intrusion, but currently no method is absolutely secure. The best strategy may be to combine a number of security measures.
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