Emerging wireless risks to consider
Ian Kilpatrick considers the risks to businesses from the proliferation of wireless access points and discusses the benefits of deploying secure access points, which are directly linked to gateway security.
Wireless, mobility and BYOD are all part of an unstoppable wave, based on widespread consumer and remote worker usage. With the new faster wireless standard, 802.11ac, due to be approved in November this year, and with 4G continuing to grow, demand for fast wireless in the workplace will increase inexorably.
While this creates multiple opportunities, it also creates a great many challenges. If, for example, your existing wireless network is insecure, building on that base of sand is always going to fail.
Historically, for many organizations, both large and small, wireless was a tactical solution to a user-driven demand for laptop (and subsequently smartphone and tablet) mobility in the office.
As demand and users have increased, organizations have typically added more access points. Today, access points are a significant element of user LANs. While they may not carry the highest amount of traffic, they typically will carry a disproportionate percentage of business confidential information.
The problem that this creates, particularly for smaller organizations, is that access points sitting inside the network, and connecting to it, are often perceived as being covered by many of the existing gateway security solutions. This can mean they are connected directly to the trusted network (internal LAN). Where this happens, it raises major security risks. There are also risks, even where wireless connectivity is managed through a separate virtual LAN (VLAN).
Wireless has crept up on many organizations. From a situation where it was provided as an additional service for certain specified staff and as a guest service to provide internet access for visitors (and staff), it has gradually increased in importance.
Today, with the upcoming multi Gbps 802.11ac wireless standard, we can now foresee a fundamental shift from wired to wireless networks.
Companies are often unaware of the risks because they have multi-layered perimeter security in place and don’t realise that wireless access has subverted that security. In addition, a misplaced ‘shoal mentality’ still blinds users to the risks. They realise there are lots of hackers out there, but simply think that there are so many targets, it’s unlikely they will be the one who is attacked.
Man in the middle attack
Connection by unauthorised users
Insertion of malicious code or theft of code via a wireless connection
Data-stealing apps on mobile devices
Rogue access points
With wireless and mobility becoming ever more ubiquitous, now is a good time to review the risks, security policies and protection that are in place.
Most companies have policies for wireless and mobility that are out-of-date. Since it is the statement of and management of policies that drives employee behaviour, out-of-date and unsupervised policies will almost certainly lead to incorrect employee behaviour, when it comes to mobile security.
Reviewing policies, perhaps doing that with some power users who understand what’s happening with technology and apps, not only gives a clear message to the business that you are serious about mobile security, but can often be a very interesting and enlightening experience. It is also important for users to be aware that wireless security is not only considered essential, but will also be managed and reported on.
The wireless risk profile changes as usage increases and more users are enabled. Many of the threats have changed and migrated down from enterprises to smaller businesses. However, many organizations have not reviewed their wireless and mobility risks in line with increasing wireless use. They are often rolling out increased access and access points without considering the security implications. For those with PCI or data security considerations, a security review is essential.
There are a whole range of things that organizations can do to secure their devices, and mobile networks - too many, in fact, for the scope of this feature. Everything starts with reviewing policies and appreciating some of the risks. At a practical level, however, there are some quick wins:
Much of the risk with wireless is around having unregulated (unsecured) devices inside the security perimeter, causing a breach of firewall/UTM (unified threat management) gateway protection.
One solution is to use a firewall/UTM which can integrate with wireless access points, creating multiple security benefits. Firewall/UTM and access point integration means that:
The continuing shift to wireless, and the increased need to secure against data leakage, is a trend that will accelerate. One of the quickest ways to improve security is by the direct integration of access points into perimeter firewall defences. However, this is an area where threats continue to change and therefore risks continually alter. Some of the above suggestions will give some quick wins, but a security review in conjunction with your IT supplier is essential, particularly as the threats created by mobile devices are significantly broader than just the wireless issues.
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•Date: 3rd October 2013 • UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: ISM
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