Sniffing out wireless hackers

Cape Town, 11 Jun 2004

About 70% of successful wireless local area network (WLAN) attacks in the near future will be because of the misconfiguration of access points (AP) and client software, Gartner says.

The international research firm says security for WLANs and personal digital assistants in companies needs to be driven by updated security policies that address the specific demands of the mobile workplace.

Gartner presented these findings yesterday during the Gartner IT Security Summit 2004 in Washington.

Something fishy

John Pescatore, VP and Gartner fellow, says whether hackers are able to enter a company`s WLAN through an unprotected AP or through a peer workstation, once they are associated with the network, they will be difficult to detect because they may not be visible in or near the network site.

"A clever hacker will play it safe and use the company`s resources quietly, and as a result, may never be found," he says.

As protection, businesses must make sure that employees or hackers don`t install unauthorised wireless APs on the network and that APs are configured securely. In dense environments, such as urban areas or multi-tenant office buildings, companies have to make sure their users don`t connect to other companies` networks.

Intruder sniffing

Gartner says the least expensive - and least effective - way of doing this is to buy a wireless sniffer handheld and walk the perimeter of the network. The most expensive - and most secure - is to install a separate set of wireless intrusion-detection sensors.

"Businesses should use sniffers to demonstrate potential exposure problems to management, especially to the management that funds security problems," Pescatore says.

"Sniffer walks should not be attempted as an ongoing survey method, but should be kept on standby. If rogue WLAN activity is detected by network monitoring systems, individual members of the IT staff can be dispatched, to act as trackers, to hone in on unauthorised signal sources."

Gartner says companies will get the most efficient WLAN intrusion detection protection from a vendor-independent dedicated sensor investment. The advantage of this method is that all WLAN traffic can be detected regardless of the equipment and vendors involved.