Careless Whispers

The problem with unsecured wireless is you never know who's listening, or what they'll do with what they hear

It's tough to find users who don't like wireless networking. The freedom, the convenience, the ability to use your laptop everywhere. It's certain that wireless networks help most of us be more productive most of the time.

Unfortunately, wireless networks have some well-known security issues. To this point, we've tended to think of those issues in terms of our company's data security, but there are growing signs that wireless security is a far more pressing issue. The Internet Crimes Against Children task force says that child molesters have learned to camp on unprotected wireless networks. By using corporate bandwidth and corporate IP addresses, the criminals are able to hide their identity to an extent almost impossible when computing from home.

A new tool shows how much chatter from noisy applications is available to a listener on your wireless network. (See Tool Uncovers Inadvertent 'Chatter'.) I think it will be fascinating to think about the number of network admins who will see chatter from applications they didn't know the organization possessed. Since many of our legitimate corporate applications deal in sensitive customer information, we again are faced with the possibility of harming others through sloppy wireless security.

Most wireless networks can be made far more secure with simple steps like changing default names and passwords, turning off SSID broadcast, and using WEP to authenticate associating computers. If that's too much trouble, the WiFi Alliance's WPS makes a more secure network slam-dunk easy.

We've passed the point at which wireless security is just about your organization's data. Every owner of a wireless network has a positive social duty to make sure it's used as intended. Unless your business model includes providing free WiFi connectivity to users (and let me say for the record that I love both Panera and Krystal), then this means controlling who is able to connect to the network, and what they're able to do once they've attached. If you're not sure about your security, then become sure — now. It's the right thing to do.

— Curt Franklin is an enthusiastic security geek who used to be one of the Power Rangers (the red one, we think). His checkered past includes stints as a security consultant, an IT staffer at the University of Florida, security editor at Network Computing, chief podcaster for CMP Technology, and various editorial positions at places like InternetWeek, Byte, and Hog Monthly. Special to Dark Reading.

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