Wireless local-area networks — often referred to as WLANs or Wi-Fi networks — are all the rage these days. People are installing them in their offices, hotels, coffee shops, and homes. Seeking to fulfill the wireless demands, Wi-Fi product vendors and service providers are popping up just about as fast as the dot-coms of the late 1990s. Wireless networks offer convenience, mobility, and can even be less expensive to implement than wired networks in many cases. Given the consumer demand, vendor solutions, and industry standards, wireless-network technology is real and is here to stay. But how safe is this technology?
Wireless networks are based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 set of standards for WLANs. In case you’ve ever wondered, the IEEE 802 standards got their name from the year and month this group was formed — February 1980. The “.11” that refers to the wireless LAN working group is simply a subset of the 802 group. There’s a whole slew of industry groups involved with wireless networking, but the two main players are the IEEE 802.11 working group and the Wi-Fi Alliance.
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Years ago, wireless networks were only a niche technology used for very specialized applications. These days, Wi-Fi systems have created a multibilliondollar market and are being used in practically every industry — and in every size organization from small architectural firms to the local zoo. But with this increased exposure comes increased risk: The widespread use of wireless systems has helped make them a bigger target than the IEEE ever bargained for. (Some widely publicized flaws such as the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) weaknesses in the 802.11 wireless-network protocol haven’t helped things, either.) And, as Microsoft has demonstrated, the bigger and more popular you are, the more attacks you’re going to receive.
Why You Need to Test Your Wireless Systems
Wireless networks have been notoriously insecure since the early days of the 802.11b standard of the late 1990s. Since the standard’s inception, major 802.11 weaknesses, such as physical security weaknesses, encryption flaws, and authentication problems, have been discovered. Wireless attacks have been on the rise ever since. The problem has gotten so bad that two wireless security standards have emerged to help fight back at the attackers
For starters, hackers are likely to attack systems that require the least amount of effort to break into. A prime target is an organization that has just one or two wireless APs. Our findings show that these smaller wireless networks help stack the odds in the hackers’ favor, for several reasons.