Wi-Fi Network Security Failures

Modern technology has undergone a huge evolutionary leap with the introduction of wireless technology. Little by little, the world is being connected thru wireless means, effectively overcoming the physical limitation previously presented by wired technologies. Wireless technology has limitless potential and currently has numerous applications which are not only bound in computer systems, but also communications, business, leisure and other aspects of human lives (“Wifi”, 2005).

A local area wireless connection or network (commonly abbreviated as WLAN or LAWN) is similar to a normal LAN though the units are connected thru wireless ports and transmits and receives data through radio connections. IEEE 802. 11 sets up the standards for WLAN technologies, in which case it uses Ethernet protocol and CSMA/CA (carrier sense multiple access with collision avoidance) for path sharing and includes an encryption method, the Wired Equivalent Privacy algorithm.

These technologies are now being utilized in various government and non-government sectors in the United States and Europe such as in schools and businesses (“Wireless LAN”, 2006). Expert opinion on Wi-Fi network security The current boom in wireless technologies also entailed many risks including “drive-by hacking” and other such threats. RSA Security Systems research has shown that about a third of businesses that apply wireless technology in their operations are at risk from hackers and other electronic perpetrators.

John Worrall, vice-president of Worldwide Marketing at RSA describes hacking as something like trying to open all the doors in an apartment until one opens. Worrall also notes that their research shows that in Europe, almost a third of business computer networks remain unprotected and the rate in which cyber crimes grow is increases by up to 66% annually. Further studies in key business centers of New York City, San Francisco, London and Frankfurt reveal that about one third of wireless business networks were found to be unsecured — 38% of businesses in New York, 35% in San Francisco, 36% in London and 34% in Frankfurt (Bernard, 2005).

These results tell that businesses set low priorities for the security of their wireless networks. City surveys from various parts of the world reveal that their wireless security settings are still set in default: 26% in London 30% in Frankfurt; 31% in New York and 28% in San Francisco. One of the proponents of these studies is Phil Cracknell, CTO at netSurity. He states that the figures presented above are just warnings to businesses to protect their digital investments. He also notes that as private wi-fi networks increase, the risks of hacking and data tampering also increases.

What Mr. Cracknell means by this is that the easy accessibility of wireless networks makes it easy for hackers to access restricted data on the fly and companies and other ventures are at high risks if they are not careful (Bernard, 2005). War driving “War dialing”, is a method used by hackers wherein they dial a number until they successfully access an open modem, and was popular in the 1980’s. In today’s modern wireless scenario, “war driving” replaced “war dialing” (Miller, 2001).

The term “war driving” is a direct derivation of “war dialing” since both are similar in concept. Both are considered a form of cyber crime, and many hackers were persecuted through the years doing these (“War Driving”, 2004). War driving is also known as access point mapping and is defined as the location and exploitation of local area wireless connections. War driving is usually done in a vehicle where the hacker disrupts and/or hacks into LANs using an antenna and the appropriate equipment, thus the term “war driving” (“War Driving”, 2004).

In a sense, war driving is using a laptop’s NIC set in promiscuous mode which will enable it to pick up unsecured WLAN signals which gives war driving another name: LAN jacking. Technically, a hacker can freeload on another person’s internet service thru this method or disrupt a wi-fi network as he or she pleases, bringing inconvenience to wi-fi network subscribers (Miller, 2001). Some hackers even purposely demonstrate how war-driving works just to show how easy wireless LANs can be hacked.

Using equipment such as omni directional antennae and GPS (Global Positioning systems) the war driver can easily map the locations of 802. 11b wireless access points in a local area for example (“War Driving”, 2004). @stakes director of research and development Chris Wysopal stated that war driving is as cheap and easy to do as its predecessor, war dialing. Basically, a war driver can drive around an unpopulated area and start his or her jacking operations from there while remaining relatively anonymous This feature of war driving lures and entices otherwise honest computer experts into dong it (Miller, 2001).

On the technical side, it is a common misconception that 802. 11b wireless signals have limited range, but some veteran war drivers point out that they can jack into WLANs that are about 6 blocks away from their origin point using a simple omni directional antenna and other equipment. On the other hand, a common user misconception is that the Service Set Identifier (SSID) in their systems (which is attached to packets sent over the wireless LAN) acts as a secret password. This common mistake leaves them prone to hacking (Miller, 2001).

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