Vulnerablilities of wireless networks

A connection to a wireless network is established through a Wireless Access Point, 'WAP' or 'AP' in short. Any computer with a wireless network card that is within range of the wireless network can attempt to connect to the network. For home users this means that neighbours can easily gain access to the network if it is not secured. Wireless security is still a hot topic for businesses too. A business that leaves it's wireless network open to attackers can become the victim of information theft, which could ruin a business if essential information is stolen.

The concept of 'wardriving' of even 'warflying' illustrates the ease with which unwanted visitors can enter your network if it is not secured. Wardrivers drive around in a car seraching for wireless networks using a laptop or PDA. Not all wardrivers actually connect to your network, but they might if they wanted to and some do. Once they find an unsecured wireless network they connect to it, look around, use your internet connection and drive on to the next unsecured wireless network. This kind of unsollicited use is not always harmful, but you should at least decide if you want to leave your network and/or internet connection open to visitors.

The most widely used form of wireless network security is 'encryption'. Encryption is a way to scramble information before it is sent over the network so that it becomes unreadable to outsiders. A special keyword or keyphrase is used to decypher the information once it is received. Weaker encryption types make it relatively easy for an outsider to obtain the key and thereby gain access to your network. It is therefor advised to use the strongest encryption type that your wireless network equipment supports.

In the following pages I will discuss several wireless network security tools that will help you protect your wireless network from unwanted visitors. Examples come from the Linksys WRT54G router and Windows XP Professional but apply to other routers and operating systems.