You might not be able to see your wireless network, but securing it should be a top priority.
Wireless network security is a top concern among those interested in deploying wireless networks. Fortunately, both user knowledge about wireless network security and the solutions offered by technology vendors are improving. Today's wireless networks feature comprehensive security capabilities, and when these networks are properly protected, companies can confidently take advantage of the benefits they offer.
"Vendors are doing a good job of improving [wireless network] security features, and users are getting an understanding of wireless [network] security," says Richard Webb, the directing analyst for wireless local area networks (WLANs) at Infonetics Research. "But all threats are still considered important, and vendors continually need to address the lingering perception that wireless LANs are insecure."
Indeed, wireless network security is the biggest barrier to the adoption of wireless LANs. And it's not just a big-company worry. When it comes to wireless networking, "security is still the No. 1 concern for companies across all sizes," says Julie Ask, research director at Jupiter Research.
Gaining a better understanding of wireless LAN security elements and employing some best practices can go a long way toward enabling you to reap the benefits of wireless networking.
Wireless Network Security Elements
Three actions can help to secure a wireless network:
Wireless Network Security Solutions
Three solutions are available for secure wireless LAN encryption and authentication: Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2), and virtual private networking (VPN). The solution you select is specific to the type of wireless LAN you're accessing and the level of data encryption required:
Wireless Network Security Policy
In some cases, you may have different security settings for different users, or groups of users, on your network. These security settings can be established by using a virtual LAN (VLAN) on the access point. For example, you can set up different security policies for distinct user groups within your company such as finance, legal, manufacturing, or human resources. You can also set up separate security policies for customers, partners, or visitors accessing your wireless network. This allows you to cost effectively use a single access point to support multiple user groups with different security settings and security requirements, all while keeping your network secure and protected.
Wireless network security, even when integrated with overall network management, only works if it's turned on and used consistently across the entire wireless LAN. That's why user policies are also an important part of good security practices. The challenge is to devise a mobile user policy that's simple enough that people will abide by it, but secure enough to protect the network. Today, that's an easier balance to strike because WPA and WPA2 are built into Wi-Fi certified access points and client devices.
Your wireless LAN security policy should also cover when and how employees can use public hot spots, the use of personal devices on the company wireless network, the forbidding of rogue devices, and a strong password policy.
Practical Steps You Can Take
No matter how you proceed, do it in an organized fashion. "Security is definitely something that has to be planned for, just like managing the network, providing coverage and access, and so forth," says Jupiter's Ask. "But it shouldn't be a barrier to the deployment of a wireless LAN."