by Curt Finch

Easing Security Concerns Associated with Going Wireless

Sep 14, 20114 mins
CIOConsumer ElectronicsCybercrime

My company is moving to a new office soon. It’s going to cost a lot of money to wire the new building. My IT team has been filling me in on what we can expect to pay. I asked them, why can’t we have a wireless office? My cell phone is wireless, my computer is wireless via Wi-Fi – why can’t our whole office be wireless? I’m told, “No way, not going to happen, fuhgeddaboudit.” So I posed the question to other companies via a media query and asked, do you have a wireless office? This is the first article in a series where we’ll discuss if a totally wireless office is possible or just a pipe dream.

I like to envision what the future of technology will be like and a completely wireless office has to be just around the corner.  As much as I’m optimistic about a wireless office, I know security risks are an issue.  But knowledge is power and by becoming informed of the risks in advance, hopefully we can prevent heartache down the road.

Why would a hacker want your business’s information?  Most of the time there is something to be gained by hacking in the form of cold, hard cash. But also, hackers want your computing power, your connection bandwidth and/or your (or your computer’s) identity. You must protect against a hacker interested in accessing important company information as well as the information of your employees. If you don’t have a secure Wi-Fi, a hacker can easily access your network from your parking lot.

For example, one school district’s insecure Wi-Fi network was exposed when a reporter sat in her car and not only accessed the network of the school’s central office, but was also able to download students’ grades, phone numbers, home addresses, medical information, psychological evaluations and even full-color photos. 

This particular school’s parent community included many people who worked for companies that supplied Wi-Fi equipment. As a result, these parents brought wireless networking into their children’s schools at a very early stage. The security of the Wi-Fi network was weak and insecure – a free Wi-Fi network had been set up using the school’s LAN line.  A secure network always needs to be a top concern — when Wi-Fi access is limited in a business setting, employees will find a way to have full internet access, even if it means going an unsafe route to get it. 

As more and more new technologies find their way into the workplace via the consumerization of IT without the direct knowledge of the IT director, a secure network is more important than ever. Osterman Research’s study titled the “2011 Consumerized IT Security Survey” states that “more than 80 percent of [companies] surveyed are letting their employees use consumerized IT products and services to conduct business communications.”

“Consumerized IT in the workplace is a fact of life, and organizations recognize that they must act to integrate it in a secure and compliant manner,” says Michael Osterman, principal of Osterman Research

So how do you keep your network secure?  Incorporating Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or a Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS) will help significantly in protecting what happens on your Wi-Fi network.  With these in place, you can identify if anyone is trying to hack into your network.  WIPS is the preferred method of security since WEP has some flaws.  A good WIPS will prevent:

o       Rogue access point or rogue hotspot

o       Unauthorized association (people outside your company accessing your network)

o       Ad-hoc networks (peer-to-peer connections)

o       Denial of service attack (makes computers unavailable to the user)

Another survey titled “Consumerization of IT: A Survey of IT Professionals” was conducted by Dimensional Research. This survey reports that “security needs top the list for IT managers when it comes to managing external mobile devices with 82 percent citing their concerns about the use of personal devices for business use, and another 62 percent specifically concerned about network security breaches.” 

Has your network ever been compromised?  Have you begun thinking about how the consumerization of IT will affect your company’s network security?