3 Questions: Mixing it up with wireless

Learn why enterprises need to develop new ways of monitoring networks.

By Terry Sweeney

With Tim Bielawa, Tom Rondeau, and Dennis Sweeney of the Center for Wireless Telecommunications (CWT) at Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA. The interdisciplinary research center is studying wireless technologies like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and microwave, including the impact on performance and interference when multiple protocols are used in the same area.

This interview originally appeared in the IT Business Edge weekly report on Maximizing IT Investments. To see a complete listing of IT Business Edge weekly reports or sign up for this free technology intelligence agent, visit

Question: What are some of the emerging wireless security issues you're finding as all these wireless technologies radiate across the campus or enterprise?

CWT: The more access points (APs), the more ways to connect, and therefore more points from which to launch an attack. The problem increases when multiple divisions of a single enterprise establish their own wireless network access. APs are often initially configured for ease of installation and even minimal security is not enabled. Heavy security is usually a function that must be implemented beyond the access point. The added security issues, with associated added cost, must be a consideration when deploying an access point.

Question: Does this mix of technology make enterprise networks more vulnerable? How does this change how enterprises and other organizations should handle risk assessment of wireless?

CWT: As AP costs continue to decrease, it is increasingly likely that a non-IT group will purchase an access point without configuring it properly and inadvertently compromise the network. When the IT department decides to deploy an AP, it may initially overlook the cost associated with the required added network infrastructure. The costs include such things as running new network cabling to physically connect the access point to the outside of the firewall and in setting up software to allow legitimate users to tunnel through the firewall and access network resources. Overlooking these two items and deploying an insecure access point would lead to an ever-greater cost in time and money, should an attacker find and exploit the access point.

Question: What changes can you foresee in regard to network access policies? It sounds like it's about to get a lot more expensive to deploy a wireless access point?

CWT: It's important to develop new ways of monitoring networks. Tools such as Red-M's Red-Alert allow monitoring both Bluetooth and 802.11 network traffic, including rogue access points and rogue users on a known access point. While even these devices fall short of complete protection, the information they provide can be invaluable to a network administrator. The bottom line is that security will continue to be a risk. We have already seen improvements in wireless security—Bluetooth is much more robust than 802.11 because of the lessons learned, and 802.11i is in the process of being standardized to address many of the weaknesses of the original 802.11 security implementation. In the end, a network is as secure as the amount of time, effort and money put into it.

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