But wireless LANs are not everywhere they could be. Enterprises have heard the horror stories of competitors and crackers sitting in a parking lot and accessing the corporate network. Unfortunately most of these stories are true. Gartner predicts that by the end of this year, a third of all enterprises will suffer a serious security exposure due to a wireless LAN.
The reason? The main protector of wireless LANs, the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) standard, remains full of holes. Research from Cahners' In-Stat and META Group suggest the lack of security is the biggest deterrent to widespread adoption of WLANs.
But the more IT professionals learn about WLAN technology, and its newer
security options, the better moving to wireless sounds.
Why isn't every LAN a WLAN?
Wireless will probably never completely replace wired local area connections. Wires have an slight advantage in security and today maintain a dramatic edge in speed.
WLANs, while far slower than their wired counterparts, are multiplying in performance. And more importantly, some very smart and dedicated developers are whittling away at the security problems.
WLAN security is generally breached the same way as any other system - a hacker or two discovers a weakness and devise a mode of attack that is then shared and used by the hacker community at large. Script kiddies, or crackers without a lot of technical background, can implement these attacks too easily and wreak havoc on your network. It's essentially: point, click and break in!
But not all attacks are aimed at compromising corporate security. Some are built to demonstrate and ultimately lead to a fix. While problems with WEP have been known for years, the dam really burst in July of 2001 when noted cryptographers Fluher, Mantin and Shamir unveiled the Rapid Passive Attack. The Rapid Passive Attack demonstrated that it is relatively easy and fast to break WEP encryption.
A month later, a team from AT&T Labs successfully implemented the attack and concluded that WEP is "totally insecure." That same month, the AirSnort program was released, letting anyone penetrate WEP weaknesses in virtually any unwired network. Now there are a host of tools for script kiddies, including WEPCrack, and Dnsniff.
By subscribing to our early morning news update, you will receive a daily digest of the latest security news published on Help Net Security.
With over 500 issues so far, reading our newsletter every Monday morning will keep you up-to-date with security risks out there.