Securing 802.11 transmissions

Monday, 21 April 2003, 10:00 AM EST

The deployment of various wireless LANs and Wi-Fi networks or configurations are under consideration by many organizations, and network security is a major concern. The problems with security on 802.11 networks have, of course, long been widely reported (see Resources for articles on security problems). Meanwhile, network architects are faced with the challenge of designing secure networks in light of these obvious problems. They have to be aware of the primary wireless LAN security problems, and how potential designs can mitigate the risk associated with each issue. Ultimately, standards would address the general fears concerning Wi-Fi LAN security.

Wi-Fi signals extend beyond the office -- into neighboring buildings, public areas, streets, and parking lots. Wi-Fi enthusiasts have started mapping out the availability of these Wi-Fi hotspots, along with their level of security. Generally speaking, hotspots -- even if they benefit the public and cater to its curiosity with technology -- are not giving Wi-Fi a good reputation. Mainly because unsecured hotspots can be used to launch attacks.

Almost everyone has heard the stories of people driving around businesses, using a WLAN card to access the Internet illegally, and even in some cases, hacking unprotected corporate networks. Some people have even been the victims of these intrusions themselves. These experiences have made it clear that existing wireless LAN deployments are not secure, especially if measures to protect against unauthorized access are not taken.

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