Renegade Airwaves: Reclaiming control of the wireless frontier

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We cannot stop growing identity theft trends by burying our heads in the sand. With the introduction of every innovative technology come new opportunities for cybercriminals to prosper.

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of interest from the media around wireless security threats, largely as a result of the US-based TJX breach of some 94 million cards made possible through insufficient WLAN security.

Evil Twin, Wi-Phishing, and Honeypot attacks are just a few of the common wireless security threats that plague the airwaves today. To deal (or not deal as the case may be) with these increasing threats, many enterprises have decided to enforce a ‘no wireless’ policy or allow wireless in very limited areas.

I would argue that this approach is one of the reasons why we are losing the war against the cybercriminals. By taking a policy approach to security, organisations often embrace a false sense of security and in the end make themselves even more vulnerable to threats. I have seen the ‘no wireless’ methodology backfire on many organisations.

Infiltrating Wired Networks

Standing outside a building armed with nothing more than a cheap wireless router configured with a commonly used Service Set Identifier (SSID) such as “tmobile”, I have astounded many CIOs as I demonstrate how easy it is to lure laptops inside the premise into automatically connecting with my bogus network through an attack known as Wi-Phishing.

If this happens while an unsuspecting employee is connected to the corporate network through a wired Ethernet port, I have an IP connection to the attacked laptop and am in a position to bridge from my fraudulent wireless network to the user’s corporate network – at which point I have access behind the firewall. If I were a hacker with malicious intent, I just hit the mother lode with very little effort.

This simple trick is made possible by the fact that the standard configuration of the most popular wireless clients are set to automatically connect to wireless networks previously utilised.

So if a user sets up his laptop to connect to a hotspot called “tmobile”, the computer will automatically connect to any wireless network that comes into range with that SSID unless the default settings have been changed.

About this time in my demonstration, the CIO is usually frantically calling his direct reports, asking how this is possible, and spouting off the various policies they have in place to prevent this type of event from happening.

What these CIOs often fail to consider is that while they may have established policies to govern the usage of wireless networks, employees often don’t understand the risks associated with not using a wireless network in accordance with the policies or perhaps just don’t care – favouring efficiency over security.

Even more alarming is the fact that an employee for the right price could be persuaded to provide a virtually undetectable open door for a hacker through this method.

Guarding the Wireless Frontier

Having policies without a method of enforcement is about as sensible as expecting inmates to stay in prison without walls or guards just because it is the right thing to do.

To reclaim the Internet from a destiny of lawlessness, businesses must view security as an obligation instead of a decision based on probability.

Admittedly, there is no silver bullet approach to security, but technology can help turn the tables on fraudsters. At a minimum, IT departments should use software to enforce wireless connectivity policies and automatically shut off employees’ wireless adapters when connected to wired networks.

Additional layers of security can be gained through the deployment of wireless intrusion and detection systems capable of accurately locating rogue wireless devices.

Whether we love or hate the new era of mobility, wireless devices have infiltrated our lives. You can try to ban them from the workplace, but that will not make your organisation impenetrable to wireless security threats.
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