Wireless systems have become the norm in recent years for efficient, functional businesses and homes. Home Internet providers now offer wireless coverage plans to accommodate a range of devices for an average sized family, and public businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants and shopping malls now routinely offer free wireless internet access for patrons. However, wireless systems have notable vulnerabilities and concerns that need to be addressed and monitored in order to maintain secure data, proprietary content and financial records. Read on to learn more about the kinds of security breaches that can occur between point A and point b on a wireless route, and what preventative measures can be taken to avoid or derail such attacks.

How Wireless Networks Work

To understand the vulnerabilities of a wireless network one must first understand how they operate. Wireless networks operate using radio frequency technology to connect a group of computers to one another as well as connect them to the internet hub. Wireless technology leverages this radio frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum by propelling a radio current through an antenna that then creates an electromagnetic field of that frequency.

At the heart of every wireless network is the access point device (AP). This AP projects the signal that computers can find so they can log into the Internet. These APs are typically connected to a wired network and serve as the bridge between the wireless computers and the wired web system.

In simplistic terms, the AP can be considered point A on the wireless route and the computer or mobile device connecting to it can be considered point B. At any given time, considerable amounts of data are transmitting back and forth between points A and B; this data makes up the emails, financial transactions, uploads, downloads and streaming media that so heavily impact modern daily life.

Vulnerabilities in Wireless Networks

There are several types of wireless network configurations that are commonly used, however only two of those configurations are available to individual users, Wireless PAN and Wireless LAN:

  • Wireless PAN: Stands for wireless personal area network; wireless PAN networks include technology such as Bluetooth and are best used for short-range connection of devices, such as a wireless headset and a phone.
  • Wireless LAN: Stands for wireless local area network; a LAN network is what is used in places like libraries and shopping malls.

Anytime data is being routed from point A to point B in a wireless network it is vulnerable to being intercepted by third party devices. In public locations, such as where public LAN networks are used, this vulnerability is compounded as there are greater opportunities for data interception. Recently, the Associated Press' Twitter handle was hacked via a wireless network. Credit card and other financial data is also a perennial concern as data is transferred over wireless networks, especially through phones.

Phones are of particular concern, because unlike PCs they are directly connected to credit cards, as most people link their mobile carrier directly to their cards. Phones can be wirelessly hacked and must be protected because phones are often easier targets than computers.

However, hackers have learned how to access wireless networks for more than just financial information. For example, it was reported that thieves recently figured out how to use public wireless networks in order to break into cars in Chicago. It is now possible for hackers to crack pacemakers and insulin pumps, to potentially "anonymously assassinate" targets. As wireless technology becomes a great part of every day life, we will see the severity and vulnerability of wireless systems tested more often and to a greater, more dangerous degree.

Threat Deflection Strategies for Wireless Networks

There are several ways an individual can protect their wireless network from security breaches. The first is to set up a wireless security system. There are two privacy protocols that have been designed to protect wireless networks from security concerns, the first of which is wired equivalent privacy (WEP) systems, that are now obsolete due to their own vulnerability; BBC noted that this type of system can now be hacked in as little as one minute. The second, commonly utilized option is the wireless protected access (WPA) system, that requires a "brute force dictionary attack" to hack as the passwords are randomly produced and therefore can only be randomly guessed.

Setting up and monitoring a security network can go a long way in preventing threats from hackers. In fact, German citizens are now responsible for their own wireless security and can be fined for lacking a secure network.

Additional strategies include keeping firewalls turned on and highly sensitive, selecting different passwords for different accounts, keeping your computer system up to date and turning off your computer when not in use.

Safeguarding wireless networks from threats and breaches is a considerable job that requires a good deal of effort. Individuals who pursue a Master's in Information Security can be certain of one thing: with the near-constant threats to wireless security on the individual, corporate, and government levels, there will always be work to do!

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Business demand for specialized knowledge in a growing digital world will continue to expand as new technology security concerns arise. Lewis University’s online M.S. in Computer Science with a concentration in Cyber Security teaches students how to identify cyber threats, design combative software systems against an attack and investigate the aftermath using digital forensics tools. To learn more about the master’s degree call (866) 967-7046 to speak with a Graduate Admissions Counselor or request for more information.