Wireless insecurities

Wireless networking is taking the world by storm, but myths and misinformation about its security have turned it into a cautionary tale for some enterprises. Brid-Aine Conway asks end users and experts if wireless can ever be as secure as wired.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  December 17, 2007

For some time now, business has been going mobile. PDAs, mobile phones, laptops and of course, the internet, have all made it possible for corporations to keep their employees working on the move and at home. And the ultimate expression of the roaming, unfettered businessperson is the wireless network.

With a wireless network, organisations can allow their employees to access the corporate network anywhere in the office building. Employees have greater scope to conduct inter-office meetings and enterprises can ensure less time is lost when travelling between different office sites, thereby maintaining high productivity.

In a copper network, you can be sure that the network can be accessed only from one of the sockets you install in your office but a wireless network can be accessed from a parking space next to your office.

"The whole paradigm is changing and wireless is actually becoming more and more important as mobility becomes more and more important to an organisation," says Guru Prasad, general manager of networking at FVC, a value-added distributor.

Despite the mobile workforce movement however, enterprises are sometimes reluctant to embrace wireless technology because of issues of performance and security. Wireless technology is still a relatively new venture in networks and some feel that the security systems needed to lock up organisations are not yet in place.

Claudiu Iarca is information systems manager at Schneider Electric Gulf, the Middle East branch of the global electrical distribution, automation and control company. He feels that wireless networks are not as secure as the more traditional wired network.

"I think they are less secure than copper because they came up on the market later and you also have some factors that are difficult to control. For example, in a copper network, you can be sure that the network can be accessed only from one of the sockets you install in your office but a wireless network can be accessed from a parking space next to your office so you don't have location security," he explains.

This is a commonly held belief about wireless networks - that they are not secure. Many myths and misleading facts (see box out, pages 36, 37) have circulated about wireless security that have led to this belief. But Prasad disagrees with the idea that wireless networks cannot be secured to the same degree as wired.

"I think of it as an access method. Whether you use wired or wireless, it's just basically a medium to access corporate information - so irrespective of how you do it, security has to be built in, in both the ways you do it. And I think it's a myth that everyone wants to de-mystify. Everybody thinks wireless networks are insecure. It's not the wireless that's insecure - it's the implementation of the security layer on top of the media access layer that makes it either secure or insecure," he says.

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