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Users Eye New WiFi Security Issues

Enterprise WiFi users may have to switch off initially to protect against latest vulnerability

Some of the underlying 802.11 security issues revealed at the recent Black Hat security show have led some experts to recommend that users turn off their WiFi radios when not in use.

A presentation by Jon Ellch and David Maynor showed a video demo of a hack using the underlying wireless drivers to quickly access a Mac computer, although the attack also works against Windows machines. (See Intel's Centrino Vulnerability.) The two researchers demonstrated how wireless drivers could establish a connection and seize control of a laptop, even if the laptop was not associated with any WiFi access point. The two-step demonstration forced the victim's notebook to establish a connection to the hacker's PC, and seized control of the laptop once the connection was established.

This exploit could potentially allow attackers to commandeer anyone's laptop -- as long as a wireless capability is installed and enabled. The demo has renewed enterprise concerns about the security fitness of 802.11 once again.

Roger Cass, CTO at healthcare firm MediSync, says he will take a number of measures to protect against the threat. "Our first step would be to caution our laptop users to leave their radios off unless they are actively using them," he tells Unstrung. "Next would be to avoid using hotspots unless necessary."

"Lastly, we would have to wait for driver fixes from the radio manufacturers. Since this was a hot topic, I imagine some patches will be forthcoming. The key is to find the updated drivers and install them," Cass said.

Third-party WiFi security companies such as AirTight Networks Inc. and Network Chemistry Inc. have already piped up to say that their products protect against the hack.

The key danger, however, is likely to be a lack of user awareness about when their WiFi radio is actually enabled. Often, many users simply do not realize that they are connected via WiFi -- either in the office or in a public space. (See Five WiFi VOIP Security Issues .)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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