Security and the use of wireless network connections – is your data safe?

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Tuesday November 5, 2013 at 10:00am
Wireless technologies have become more prevalent in recent years and it’s all too easy to hop onto a WiFi connection when you are out and about without really considering the dangers to your business. It’s very easy to forget the sensitivity of the information that you might be transmitting over these airwaves and who might be able to listen in.

With a wireless network, computers connect to each other and network devices by transmitting data over the airwaves. You can do this via your laptop, tablet or mobile phone really easily and if you’ve connected to that wireless access point before without even realising. Once connected wirelessly you can access any resources in a network, just as other hard-wired systems would.

Many small businesses will choose to run a wireless network within their office, rather than have hardwire PCs. Consultants who work remotely will regularly use hotspots and other wireless connections to collect emails, surf the web or even access client systems and data.

All need to have adequate security measures in place and give proper consideration to information security management issues.

There are limits on wireless network reach, which might make you think your office wireless network in the lovely rural location away from other businesses is completely safe. But think again. Using something as simple as a can and a wireless antenna pointing at your wireless transmitter your data could be intercepted. Some tests have shown this can be effective to capture transmissions of a wireless network more than a mile away.

Whilst you might think you’re unlikely to be targeted in this way this wouldn’t hold much sway if you were targeted and lost valuable business data, or worse still confidential customer information.

If you, or your employees are likely to be using remote wireless access points it is sensible to have a policy and make sure all are aware of the potential risks.

There are some simple rules for using wireless networks that all should follow:

  • Never join a network which is using WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). It is simply not secure.
  • When working remotely connect to a wireless network using a personal dongle or smart phone as a tethering device rather than by joining a wireless access point in the airport or your local Starbucks. Many wireless access points are poorly implemented and will allow other devices on the wireless network to connect to your device and potentially result in a data breach. This can be as simple as installing a wireless sniffer application on a laptop that includes wireless capabilities. An attacker could be sitting next to you capturing wireless transmissions and you’d never even know.
  • Check the settings on all your wireless devices to make sure they will not connect automatically to networks that you don’t want them to.
Whilst it’s great to have the freedom to sit over a coffee and check your emails in a café or the airport departure lounge you really should think twice before you connect to an untrusted or unknown wireless access point.

Marcus Allen
Parker Management Consultants

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