Wireless Security: Good News, Bad News - InformationWeek

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2/2/2011
12:39 PM
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Wireless Security: Good News, Bad News

Individuals seem to understand the potential problems that could arise if their wireless connections are compromised; however, many still are not taking all the steps necessary to secure their information, according to a survey conducted for the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Individuals seem to understand the potential problems that could arise if their wireless connections are compromised; however, many still are not taking all the steps necessary to secure their information, according to a survey conducted for the Wi-Fi Alliance.Security has been a concern since a flaw was found in one of the early iterations of wireless LANs. To overcome these problems, the Wi-Fi Alliance and IEEE developed the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) standard, which layers encryption functions on wireless connections. Compliant products have been shipping for several years. While WPA helps to ensure information is protected as it travels along wireless links, it lets users determine the level of security for their connections. Many do not invoke any of the encryption functions, leaving their transmissions open to compromise.

This limitation could cause problems for small and medium businesses if wireless users, who now numbers more than 200 million in the US, work with hotspots, about 750,000 are available worldwide. In fact, transmitting information from a location outside one's home or office is becoming more common. The survey found that 32 percent of respondents tried to use an outsider's Wi-Fi network, which was an increase from 18 percent in December 2008. To ensure maximum usage, most hotspot suppliers turn off all wireless security functions. If an employee transmits company data from one of these locations, then it is open to intrusion.

Yet, there is a growing understand of the risks, according to the survey of 1,054 Americans conducted by Wakefield Research for the Wi-Fi Alliance. The poll found that many Americans would rather share their house key or their toothbrush than their Wi-Fi network password. In sum, users seem to understand that there are dangers in transmitting information from outside locations, but their efforts to prevent such problems could be improved.

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