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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Security at Stake - Vulnerability of Wi-Fi Networks

Security at Stake
Vulnerability of Wi-Fi networks increases manifold as basic measures like enabling a security code are ignored by both users and service providers

The pattern linking most of the recent blasts engineered in India is that they have been somehow connected to the Internet, and more specifically emails. Either before or after the blasts, terror suspects have sent emails to media and police claiming responsibility or giving prior information about blasts. The common thread to most of these emails was that suspects hacked into someones unsecured Wi-Fi network to send out terror emails.

Thanks to the availability of affordable Wi-Fi modems from vendors such as D-Link, UTStarcom, and Linksys (Cisco), there has been commoditization of these devices which are available for as low as Rs 1,500. This has made Wi-Fi networks common, and more vulnerable. All laptops available in the market today are Wi-Fi enabled. Adding to the increasing vulnerability of unsecured Wi-Fi networks are mobile devices with Wi-Fi capability. Ease of accessibility of wireless connections through large number of free Wi-Fi hot spots makes it easy to hack into unsecured networks and difficult to track offenders.

Why Unsecured?
Most Indian telecom service providers, particularly BSNL and MTNL, have not done much to ensure that wireless modems installed enable security, neither are the subscribers informed about the same. At times, the technical person who installs Wi-Fi connections does not know how to do it.

Another problem is that users buying wireless modems connect their Wi-Fi Internet connection without enabling even the basic security mechanism that is available. According to Manjula Sridhar, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aujas Networks, a digital security services company, The awareness level of a large section of Indian Internet users is very poor, and all they know is to switch on and switch off wireless modems. Another issue is that users do not want to complicate matters. By keeping it open everybody in the family can use it without getting into too much complexity of user IDs and passwords.

Large enterprise networks are more or less secure but it is the networks of the small and medium businesses and the end consumers that are prone to these attacks due to lack of expertise to secure the network. According to Sudarshan Boosupalli, country head, Ruckus Wireless, a provider of Wi-Fi LAN solutions, Most small and medium businesses have fallen prey to cheap Wi-Fi modems which do not offer adequate protection, thereby compromising security.

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