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Enterprise wireless security threats and responses

Prepare your organization for potential wireless security threats by knowing how to respond to each type of issue.

Wireless security threats can be the bane of an enterprise's existence -- unless they are prepared for potential problems and know which solutions to put in place should they occur.

Refer to the following list of threats and responses below to mitigate wireless issues in your organization.

Insecure devices

Hardware and software vulnerabilities

  • Palm OS v4.0 promises a variety of security improvements in OS vulnerabilities, such as better concealment of passwords; elimination of lockout bypass with debug mode
  • PocketPC 2002 adds security features such as "strong" passwords
  • Augment native security capabilities with third-party products

Easily lost or stolen

  • Establish policies and procedures to respond to theft or loss
  • Physical locking system (PDA Saver)

Viruses and cross-system attacks/exploits

  • Implement virus protection on both host PCs and handheld devices
  • Prohibit installation of personal software or hardware extensions

Data in transit: 802.11b

WEP encryption vulnerabilities

  • Implement server-based synchronization for better control and management of software on devices
  • Data in Transit: 802.11b Wireless Networks
  • Use it anyway to offer protection from casual browsing, and position for deployment of patches/fixes from vendors after standard is corrected

Poor key management

  • Ensure that default keys in access points and cards are replaced before deployment
  • Evaluate/implement solutions that support dynamic key management, rather than manual updates
  • Among others, consider products from Cisco, Agere, Enterasys and Avaya

Default system configurations enable open access

  • Change default keys
  • Replace default SNMP community strings
  • Ensure WEP is enabled
  • Consider activation of MAC address filtering, but remember it can be spoofed and becomes unworkable in larger environments (more than 250 users)

Access point placement

  • Place access points outside network firewalls
  • Require authentication -- firewall, authentication server or access point—before granting access to the network

Disclosure/compromise of traffic

  • Implement virtual private networking
  • Open-source cracking tools are widely available (AirSnort and WEPCrack) and could be considered for "do-it-yourself" penetration testing

Rogue access points

  • Establish policies prohibiting casual purchase and deployment of wireless access points
  • Frequently survey your network to discover unauthorized access points
  • Track DHCP leases that don't expire
  • Use wireless sniffers to identify non-IT access points
  • Management solutions, including those from equipment vendors such as Avaya, as well as independent companies like
  • Wavelink, aid in tracking and configuring deployed systems and offer some functionality to detect rogue systems
  • Maintain control over unused IP addresses, deactivating ports that aren't currently in use

Physical security

  • Monitor physical perimeters of buildings to minimize "war driving," but understand this won't thwart a dedicated hacker. Directional antennas can pick up signals over long distances

Data in transit

WAP gateway encrypt/decrypt

  • For non-sensitive applications, low-priority issue; evaluate security of wireless gateway provider; establish liability for loss or compromise
  • Sensitive applications may require architectural changes -- or wait until WAP 2.0

Application-level encryption

  • Perform security assessment for acquired solutions
  • For internally developed packages, acquire and use security toolkits (RSA, Certicom, NTRU, etc.) for wireless development


Rogue server/imposters

  • Standard wired network protections such as validation of server certificates are adequate

Unauthorized access

  • Evaluate and implement 802.1x-based authentication systems in both wired and wireless environments
  • Require authentication prior to granting network access
  • Most 802.11 access points already incorporate some authentication capabilities
  • Leverage existing authentication capabilities of routers or firewalls
  • RADIUS servers can enhance existing authentication techniques and support eventual 802.1x deployments
  • PKI supports both user authentication/access control and applications, such as digital signatures;
  • Vendors offer both products and services
  • Biometrics offers potential for wireless networks, but don't expect robust products soon
  • Authentication tokens are being adapted for wireless environments


This was last published in January 2002

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