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Why Is Wireless Network Security So Important for All Businesses?

Jul 14, 2021
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Only one thing comes to mind when companies hear the terms wireless networks or Wi-Fi – convenience. Wireless networks provide organizations with enhanced efficiency, improved availability and accessibility of communication channels, increased employee productivity, and seamless collaboration. Due to this, Gartner predicts that more than 15 billion devices will have connected to company networks by 2028, with 80% of the devices using wireless technologies.

While the role of wireless networks in facilitating daily business operations cannot be underscored, wireless network security remains a pressing challenge. Similar to wired networks, wireless network security entails preventing unauthorized access to preserve information integrity, confidentiality, and availability.

However, no network is immune to intrusions and breaches. For example, the Identity Theft Resource Center report indicated that the US alone recorded at least 1,100 data breaches in 2020 that affected more than 300 million people. The numbers are even higher in other countries, indicating a growing need for businesses to understand the essence of securing their wireless networks.

For modern enterprises, core business operations and functions depend on the availability and security of wireless networks. Attacks targeting such networks can cause prolonged business interruptions leading to financial losses, diminished customer trust, dented reputation, non-compliance fines, and loss of sensitive information.

Why you should be worried about your wireless network security

Mathy Vanhoef, a cybersecurity researcher, recently discovered vulnerabilities that impact all current Wi-Fi security protocols. According to the researcher's experiments, he found that "every Wi-Fi product is affected by at least one vulnerability and that most products are affected by several vulnerabilities." Therefore, organizations using wireless networks are susceptible to vulnerabilities unless they implement proactive measures for patching their devices.

Also, a 2019 survey involving 1,075 employees found that 72% of companies that experienced a data breach were due to connecting unsecured wireless devices, such as laptops, mobile phones, and printers, to their wireless networks. The same study revealed that at least 43% of organizations reported cyber-attacks, with 52% attributing the attacks to open wireless devices and networks.

Indeed, companies use wireless networks to transmit sensitive data internally and externally. Other than financial motivations, data theft is a leading cause of wireless network security attacks. Many companies require sensitive information to offer efficient services, making them a top target for attackers.


The following are the most common types of data targeted in a wireless network attack:

  • Personal information: 36% of compromised information consists of personal data items, such as addresses, names, and contact information. Attackers usually use the data to execute more identity theft attacks.

  • Payment information: Payment data accounts for 27% of the information compromised during a network breach. Financial information compromise, like credit card data, can result in severe consequences for the affected organization.

  • Medical data: Personal health information makes up 25% of data breaches today. Notably, medical data in the wrong hands can be used for various malicious reasons, such as blackmail and fraudulent medical insurance claims, among others.


How hackers access sensitive information in a wireless breach

Malicious actors use different techniques to breach a wireless network in order to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, such as personally identifiable data. The methods evolve as hackers leverage technological advancements to design attack strategies capable of causing the most damage. However, for most businesses, data is the primary motivation for executing wireless network attacks.

Hackers can use any of the following methods to hack and steal sensitive data from a company's wireless network:

  1. Rogue Access Point

    A rogue access point attack occurs when a cyber adversary compromises an unsecured access point set up without the explicit authorization of a network administrator. For example, a malicious hacker may install a rogue access point with the sole intention of tricking company employees into believing they are connecting to an authorized access point. In reality, the hacker intercepts and exfiltrates all sensitive information and communications transmitted through the access point. In other cases, a user may set up a soft access point purposing to share a wired internet connection with other users wirelessly. However, the access point may be unsecured due to a lack of a strong password or other reasons, enabling attackers to intrude into the network steal confidential data.

  2. Evil Twin Attack

    Hackers use evil twin attacks to steal information relayed over a wireless network. Adversaries create a fake wireless network containing the access credentials used to secure a legitimate access point during the attack. The fake access point contains the same Service Set Identifier (SSID)/Wi-Fi to eliminate suspicion. Attackers can also clone the MAC address of the true wireless network as further efforts for tricking devices to connect automatically. In addition, they may position the fake wireless access point closer to a victim to ensure devices connects to the evil twin first. A successful evil twin attack can cause extensive information loss since the hackers can now view and intercept transmitted sensitive data. It can also enable the attackers to capture login credentials to crucial accounts and execute browser-based attacks on the clients.

  3. Social Engineering Attacks

    These are the most common tactics hackers use to gain unauthorized access to a protected network. Social engineering methods like phishing enable cybercriminals to achieve several negative outcomes, such as stealing login credentials for accessing a wireless network, planting malware, and data exfiltration. The techniques are popular since they target users – the weakest link in wireless network security. For example, attackers can send spear-phishing emails to employees in a specific organization containing malicious links or attachments. Clicking on the links may automatically download a spyware program that enables hackers to spy on and monitor sensitive network activities. Through such malicious programs, attackers can exfiltrate business data for months without being detected.

  4. Configuration Issues

    Configuration issues often cause exploitable vulnerabilities. For example, failing to change default configurations from open to PSK or Enterprise authentication on a wireless access point can enable anyone to access the network. Default usernames and passwords are common across devices and, therefore, easy to crack. Malicious actors can quietly connect to misconfigured access points gaining access to a network. Unmonitored access means that hackers can elevate their access privileges and access sensitive accounts and data. Most access points also have a web interface enabled by default that runs over HTTP. It’s advised to configure the web interface to run over HTTPS, which provides an additional layer of security.

Securing wireless networks faces complex challenges

A few years back, the main complaint entailed inadequate solutions for securing wireless networks. However, the case is different today as companies consider the numerous offerings to be too much. With so many security providers offering multiple wireless network security solutions, organizations are often unable to determine which one is best suited to address the security needs of a given business environment. A 2019 study on the State of Enterprise Secure Access conducted by IDC Connect and sponsored by Pulse Secure found that instead of efficiency, many companies rely on at least two separate tools in secure access. The 300 companies surveyed revealed that they use at least two tools in various categories, such as network access controls (NAC) devices, cloud security access brokers, virtual private networks, and mobile device management (MDM). This "tool sprawl" issue leaves companies more vulnerable as it contributes to complexity for both users and administrators while reducing visibility across users and devices connecting to resources.

As such, wireless network security adds several complexities to corporate networks. Enterprises must be aware of their unique network designs and corresponding wireless security solutions to protect data and IT infrastructure from malicious access. Determining the appropriate solution is thus a complex issue for IT teams today.

In this regard, some network admins recommend best practices for protecting wireless networks, such as:

  • Maintaining a list of white-listed MAC addresses that can connect to a wireless network
  • Updating clients and access points running vulnerable firmware consistently
  • Creating strong passwords that have at least 16 characters for securing access points
  • Using WPA2-PSK as a minimum for the security protocol and CCMP for encryption

Although recommended, these and many other recommendations are not always implemented, and if they are, they are not always maintained. Take the first two points, for instance. MAC addresses can become unmanageable as a wireless network grows beyond managing a few access points, especially for a rapidly growing enterprise. Also, updating and patching network access points on time call for an automated program that monitors and manages updates in real-time. Unfortunately, only a small number of companies can build and maintain such a program.

Such shortcomings impede realizing reliable security. Companies must consider several factors like user interactions needed to manage them, required tech support resources, and compatibility of authentication protocols with existing network infrastructure. With wireless network security being more complex to achieve yet vital in today's highly volatile security landscape, how can companies ensure good network and data protection?


Pulsar Security has your wireless network security covered

Wireless network security is arguably the most crucial to driving business growth and productivity. Pulsar Security protects your company by monitoring wireless networks as an entry point for attackers. Pulsar's proprietary Sonar devices, included with Pulsar Cyber Shield, allows an organization to know who or what device connects to its wireless network at any time providing control over the users or devices that can connect to a network.

With evil twin attacks reported daily worldwide, the Sonar platform detects and alerts once a new access point starts broadcasting your network's MAC address or SSID. The platform also performs frequent automated password cracking to ensure your wireless network's password is robust. Through Sonar, you are assured of detecting rogue access points created within range of your network and the devices connecting to it, ensuring you remain protected. Also, you can use Sonar to identify if any of the access points are running outdated firmware that can cause network compromise.

Duane Laflotte

Duane Laflotte

As CTO, Duane works to resolve complex technical issues for the team and its partners. He can be found at the bleeding edge of emerging technology and believes that continually feeding curiosity results in prolonged growth and creative solutions to complicated challenges. Duane is an expert technologist in the areas of cryptography, exploit development, networking, programming, and enterprise data storage. As an industry leader, Duane has worked with a wide array of Fortune 500, government, and military organizations - such as Disney, Bank of America, the FBI, SOCOM, DARPA, and the NHL – as a solutions architect, red team lead, and presales engineer. Duane is a highly accomplished engineer who has achieved expert-level certification as an Offensive Security Certified Expert (OSCE) among other credentials such as Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP), GIAC Exploit Researcher & Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Microsoft Certified Professional, and Microsoft Technology Associate. Duane is an active FIRST Robotics volunteer and has coached teams which have earned the prestigious Chairman's Award.