The peril within

Wednesday, 5 March 2003, 2:31 PM EST

The decade of the 1990s saw the birth of the 10Base-T Ethernet jack and along with it concerns about the insecurity of allowing just anyone to plug in and connect to a network. Although these fears weren't groundless, they could be dealt with on a physical level. The thinking was that only people with actual access to a company's wired network could gain access to its systems, and hence physical security measures that restricted access were the solution. Nowadays, the Ethernet jack has become a utility item and has almost completely dropped off the radar screen as a security issue.

802.11 wireless LANs (Wi-Fi) are fast becoming the trademark technology for this decade and, like the Ethernet jack before them, they are raising security concerns, some of which are overblown and some of which are very real. WLANs are one of the few growth areas of the network industry. They are taking off at businesses across America and are even more popular for home use and in public "hot spots" such as airports, hotels and coffee shops.

Thanks to user-friendly technology, a non-IT professional can readily install a WLAN and instantly add corporate value without the headaches of running cables and building physical infrastructure. Unfortunately, WLANs are also inherently insecure and can serve as the open window through which hackers could easily penetrate an enterprise's IT security system.

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