The Perils of Wireless Networking…

Written By: Rick Parrott, MCP

In November 2003, Toronto police arrested a man in an upscale residential neighborhood. They noticed his car driving slowly the wrong way down a one-way street. Upon stopping the car, the police discovered the driver naked from the waist down. What was he doing? He was using his laptop to download and watch “kiddie” porn from the Internet! How? He was connecting to the internet using unprotected wireless systems in the houses near the road! Here is the problem, if someone were to access the Internet and download illegal material, then disconnect and drive off; it would look like the homeowner did the downloading. How hard would it be to convince the FBI that you were a victim? This is not the only time this has happened. In a recent interview, attorney Joseph Burton, of Duane Morris Law Firm, said, “Is it possible a home owner can be liable for a lack of security on a wireless network? Yes, if they are negligent in setting up security.” (Richard Shim, CNET News.com). According to research by the World Wide War Drive over 228,537 wireless access points were detected. Over 62% were totally open and unprotected! In San Antonio Texas, the percentage of unprotected networks is slightly higher. Some wireless access points can extend their coverage over 300 feet from the unit. Sure, the farther away, the slower the connection, but even one mbps is faster than a dialup connection. Add that to being untraceable and you have a pervert’s heaven! Having a wireless network connection is a great thing; the freedom it gives you is priceless. With a few precautions, you can secure your wireless connection and surf the World Wide Web from the comfort of your easy chair, bed or backyard. Conducting a casual site survey around your home will tell you a lot about your vulnerability. Do you live right up on the road? How far from your home, are your neighbors? How far does your signal carry from the wireless unit? After answering these questions, you can proceed to securing the wireless network itself. Unfortunately, consumer routers are shipped wide open. That is they have no preconfigured security. You, the homeowner, will have to configure the security setting yourself. Your wireless router and network interface card (NIC) are the parts that actually talk to each other. Each of them has a MAC address. This is a unique number assigned to every NIC made, worldwide. Using this MAC address, you set the router security to talk only to certain other MAC addresses. Therefore, if you have two laptops in your network, you add both MAC addresses to your router security setup and any other MAC addresses are blocked. This security setup works well for keeping the average wireless user out of your system, but a competent hacker can bypass it. A technique called spoofing allows the hacker’s computer to pretend to be one of your laptops and trick the system into letting him in. To prevent this you would need to add additional layers of security. Keep in mind though, every additional layer of security adds to the burden of your network. It slows things down. Litigation seems to be a national past time these days. Protect yourself and your family by taking some of the precautions listed above. If you feel you need the extra protection offered by WEP or another encryption scheme contact your locate computer technician and have him configure it for you. This is an especially important decision for those who run their own business and use wireless products. How angry would your customer’s be if someone stole their information off your network and used it to open accounts in their name? Identity Theft is only one possible outcome, if your network contains patient data you could be in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Then you would be dealing with the federal government! Take the time to protect yourself and your family. Security does take a little time, but it could save you many problems down the road.
About the Author

SA Secure, a San Antonio Texas company specializing in desktop support and help desk services for small to medium businesses. Our goal is to provide an alternative to maintaining an expensive in-house IT staff or relying on many different individual computer repair technicians. Our services allow you to obtain an expert level of cost effective technical support without the need to maintain technicians on-site.

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