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Wireless key security: How to lock down enterprise wireless networking

In this expert response, Mike Chapple presents guidelines for wireless key security, including choosing the most secure wireless key possible.

I need to create a key for a wireless router, and want to make sure it's as secure as possible. Are there any best practices I should follow to make sure my wireless keys are sufficiently secure?

Absolutely.  Generally speaking, you should strive to follow similar practices when selecting and implementing a Wi-Fi security key as you would when selecting any other password that protects sensitive information.  Some good wireless key security guidelines include:

●        Choose a key that is at least eight characters long.

●        Don’t use a key that is based upon a dictionary word.

●        Use a mixture of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, digits and symbols.

●        Change your key periodically and whenever anyone with access to it leaves the organization.

In addition to choosing a strong password, you need to be certain you’re using strong wireless encryption.  While devices you buy on the store shelf today are generally preconfigured to use the secure Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2) encryption technology, many older devices require you select it explicitly.  You should avoid, at all costs, the use of the older Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption algorithm.  WEP security is fundamentally flawed and even an unskilled attacker can gain access to your WEP-protected network in a matter of seconds; free tools available on the Internet, such as AirCrack, can be used maliciously with little or no training to retrieve your WEP encryption key by doing little more than monitoring your network for a short period of time.

There’s one other issue you should consider: Are you sure using a shared security key is the best solution for your environment?  In anything other than the smallest business, you probably want to consider the use of WPA Enterprise instead of a shared secret key.  The enterprise wireless networking option leverages an existing authentication infrastructure to allow users to sign in to the wireless network with their own username and password.  This way, when a user leaves the organization, you only need to disable his or her account and not change the wireless encryption key on every device on your network.

This was last published in June 2011

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