The increase in mobile broadband services and the advent of new wireless technologies will increase the number of mobile workers who carry their business data on laptops and smart phones. These users often connect to the Internet through home and public wireless local area networks (WLANs), easily exposing their data to hackers.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, entitled "Innovations in Wireless Network Security", finds that this spike in the number of WLANs and the advent of 802.11n specifications have hastened the development of wireless security technologies, since the ubiquity of WLAN has made wireless networks a soft target for a variety of attacks.
"The popularity of wireless fidelity (WiFi) technology has been growing rapidly in the past few years and it has become an indispensable part of mobile devices such as laptops, smart phones, mobile phones, and even portable media players," explains Technical Insights research analyst Yin Fern Ko. "It is estimated that more than 90% of laptops in use today are equipped with WiFi."
Despite the obvious need for an impenetrable security set-up, the lack of a clear and consistent wireless security policy, dependence on outdated protocols, and the difficulty in combating new types of attacks have challenged the implementation of security measures.
Hackers regularly release new types of attacks, such as evil twin attack, wi-fi phishing attack, and the dictionary attack on wireless networks, but the existing security strategies are largely reactive instead of being proactive.
Wireless network operators are often caught off guard and cannot detect and prevent these attacks. Additionally, the rapid advances in technology in the wireless domain hinder the development of wireless security protocols.
"A number of enterprises today fail to understand the importance of defining and enforcing a centrally managed wireless network access policy," notes Frost & Sullivan research analyst Achyuthanandan S. "They must be made to understand that it is the policy and not the technology itself that governs the security aspects of a wireless network."
In fact, a clear policy, along with basic security measures is, more often than not, sufficient for protecting wireless networks from the majority of issues.
Numerous enterprises continue to place faith in standard protocols such as wired equivalent privacy (WEP) despite their many vulnerabilities. To combat such user apathy and enhance the security in the wireless domain, network operators must improve the awareness of end users.
The enthusiastic adoption of wireless technologies and devices as well as the constant introduction of novel wireless technologies will keep security developers on their toes. While the onus is on them to roll out more stringent wireless security protocols, it is vital for the users to develop a better understanding of the potential threats in the wireless domain.
"Employees are considered the biggest threats to wireless security because not many are aware of what is at stake if the data residing in their smart phones or laptops is compromised or lost to an intruder," observes Achyuthanandan. "They often skirt security rules, leaving their entire organisation at the mercy of attackers. Hence, it is important for the companies to accord higher priority to employee education."