Six Keys to Improving Wireless Security

Six Keys to Improving Wireless Security

Erik Graham (General Dynamics C4 Systems, USA) and Paul John Steinbart (Arizona State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-855-0.ch034
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This chapter presents a step-by-step approach to improving the security of wireless networks. It describes the basic threats to achieving the security objectives of confidentiality, integrity, and availability when using wireless networking. It also explains various countermeasures that can be used to reduce the risks associated with wireless networks. This chapter has two main objectives. The first is to provide managers with practical guidance for improving the security of their organization’s wireless networks. The second objective is to summarize the issues and concerns associated with the use of wireless networking so that researchers can identify fruitful areas in need of further investigation.
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Organizations implement wireless networking in the hopes of cutting costs and improving productivity. The use of wireless technologies enables network connectivity to be extended faster, and at less cost, than would be associated with having to install additional infrastructure. It can also increase productivity by providing workers with access to computing resources wherever they happen to be working, rather than only from fixed locations thereby potentially improving employee productivity. Wireless networking, however, also poses new and different threats to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information resources. Fortunately, with proper planning, organizations can mitigate many of those threats and achieve a reasonable level of protection to justify the use of wireless networking. This chapter presents a step-by-step approach to guide managers in that process. Keep in mind, however, that wireless technology has evolved dramatically during the past ten years. For example, transmission speeds that used to be measured in kilobits per second now approach 100 megabits per second. This pace of change is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, many security issues, such as the inherent susceptibility of wireless transmissions to unauthorized interception, will continue to exist and must be addressed by management. Consequently, the discussion in this chapter is necessarily at a high level, with the objective being to concisely summarize the critical issues associated with the use of wireless networks and the corresponding countermeasures for reducing those risks. Readers desiring more detailed technical information about wireless security are referred to the NIST publications SP800-48 (Karygiannis & Owens, 2002) and SP800-97 (Frankel, Eydt, Owens, & Scarfone, 2007). In addition, other chapters in this handbook provide more detailed information about many of the specific countermeasures discussed here (e.g., encryption, firewalls, user authentication, and VPNs).

Our approach focuses on the three basic objectives of information security: preserving the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information resources. Table 1 shows that wireless networking poses two types of threats to each of those objectives. Confidentiality can be compromised either by intercepting wireless transmissions or by unauthorized access to the network holding sensitive information. The integrity of information can be destroyed by altering it either during transmission or when it is at rest. The availability of information resources can be removed either by disrupting the wireless transmissions or by the loss, theft, or destruction of the wireless networking devices.

Table 1.
Wireless security objectives, threats, and countermeasures
Security ObjectiveThreatsCountermeasures
ConfidentialityInterception of wireless signalsEncryption
Network Design/Configuration
Unauthorized accessStrong Authentication
Network Design/Configuration Policies and audits
IntegrityAlteration of wireless signalsStrong authentication
Alteration of stored dataStrong authentication
AvailabilityDisruption of wireless signalsNetwork Design/Configuration
Theft of wireless devicesPhysical Security

Key Terms in this Chapter

Infrastructure Mode: A wireless configuration option in which clients authenticate to a central access point.

SSID: The service set identifier is the code broadcast by a wireless access point to identify itself.

WEP: Wired equivalent privacy, the original method used to encrypt wireless traffic. It is easily cracked and not recommended for use any longer.

Hot Spots: Publicly-available wireless access points.

WPA-2: The wireless encryption method prescribed by 802.11i. It provides much stronger security than either WEP or WPA and is the currently recommended method for encrypting wireless traffic.

Ad-Hoc Mode: A wireless configuration option in which clients communicate directly with one another without having to authenticate to a central access point.

802.1X: An IEEE standard for authentication that can be used in either wireless or wired networks. It improves security by authenticating devices prior to assigning them an IP address, thereby reducing the risk of eavesdropping and other attacks.

Rogue Access Points: Unauthorized wireless access points.

Initialization Vector (IV): A string of bits used to pad the initial block of text that is to be encrypted.

WPA: Wi-Fi Protected Access is a “stop-gap” improvement of WEP that was introduced for use pending acceptance of the 802.11i protocol. WPA has been cracked and is not recommended for use any longer.

Message Integrity Check (MIC): A digital hash used to verify that a message has not been altered.

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