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November 15, 2012

Why Is Wireless Security Important for Ethical Hacking?


Watch these Ethical Hacking videos, and you’ll understand skills like network sniffing, social engineering, hijacking, and more. With these tactics of ethical hacking you’ll learn security techniques through the mind of an attacker.


I talk to a lot of different people about wireless network security and often I’ll ask them an open ended question: “What does wireless network security protect?” Usually, about half of the folks that answer me will say, “It protects the data going back and forth between laptops or remote clients and the network, so that no one can sniff it, so an attacker can’t actually crack open the data in transit.”

And about half of the respondents usually say, “Well, it protects from an attacker getting onto my network. It actually stops unauthorized people from connecting to my network.”

Very few people actually say both at the same time. It’s usually only when I probe and ask a few different questions or have a discussion that they realize that wireless network security does both. It’s designed to both prevent unauthorized individuals or systems from connecting to the network, and to protect the information that’s going back and forth between wireless clients and the network.

Connection and Data Security

This concept of connection security, (only authorized clients and users can connect to the network), and the concept of data security, (protecting the data in transmission or in flight), both really go into making up wireless network security. You’ll see that there are different techniques for both attacking and defending against both of those.

There is no one silver bullet for wireless network security. It’s about an infrastructure and a solution. Administrators just turn on WPA2 blindly, assuming that it’ll protect. They are going to get compromised. I can’t stress that enough.

When I ask the administrator the question, “Well, what is WPA2? Can you give me some examples or some detail or some specificity?” usually the shoulders come up, the shrug goes on and they kind of look like a puppy dog staring at an Encyclopedia Britannica set.

They’re just really confused. They think “because WPA2 is everything I need,” there really isn’t any more to it.

Again, that’s a really common mistake. As ethical hackers we like when your network is in that same scenario because there’s probably some stuff that we can use to penetrate the wireless network. As an administrator or defender, it is probably not a great idea.

WiFi is Everywhere

Part of the reason wireless security is so important right now is that WiFi is built into virtually every device that comes out. Pretty much any type of technology that comes out today has some WiFi. Televisions have WiFi. Radios have WiFi. Cars have WiFi. Virtually every electronic device in the house will have WiFi. Anything that’s designed to be mobile will be WiFi.

So, it’s really super common and it increases the usability and flexibility of most of these types of devices. For example, when throwing a game console into the kids’ room you don’t have to worry about running cabled Ethernet or getting a new DSL modem in the kids’ room. You simply give it a WiFi access point; point it to the right information and boom, it’s working. It’s just on.

The same thing is possible with a phone. You bring a new phone home that’s equipped with WiFi and you simply tell it what your house network is and the password and boom, it’s on the Internet, connected and downloading updates and so forth.

Well, that’s great for usability. The concern there is that WiFi signals can go really far. As an attacker, I can sit a quarter mile or half mile away with the right kind of devices, which are not terribly expensive, and I can actually become part of that WiFi network, or sniff the traffic that’s going on back and forth between the WiFi clients and the access points.

That is not necessarily a bad thing in a home because in a home you may only really be worried about Xbox Live traffic or Playstation Network traffic, but in the workplace an attacker can simply point a directional antenna, or get close enough physically to sniff all kinds of great traffic with not just a specialized device that costs tens of thousands of dollars, but virtually any wireless device, which can be extraordinarily cheap, run on any platform, and pretty much run whatever software they want.

All of this functionality and ubiquity of WiFi is great for usability and functionality. It’s also great for ethical hacking because it gives us lots of opportunities and lots of devices to listen to, to exploit, that maybe can’t handle advanced security or deep crypto. That is fantastic because there are lots of vulnerabilities for us to exploit.

Another reason why most attackers are now focusing on wireless security is that, in a lot of companies, WiFi is preferred over wired Ethernet. Wired Ethernet, or wired networking of any type, is expensive, difficult to manage, gets old, has to be repaired and breaks.

The administrator might just deploy wireless for all clients throughout the enterprise because it’s easier and quicker. When there’s more bandwidth, bad administrators will just throw up another access point. They’ll add stuff on without thinking about it or planning it carefully. And even if they have planned it carefully, there are plenty of signals for us to capture, spoof and attack from outside the company.

Part of your ethical attack or ethical hacking attack might be to commit a denial of service attack. If all of the networking in an organization is wireless instead of wired, it’s that much easier to jam all of that signal. You can buy a signal jammer fairly inexpensively, or just spoof a bunch of WiFi traffic on the right channels. This focus on wireless security is pretty great for attackers and pretty bad for administrators because it gives them a lot of exposure.

About the Author

has worked in the IT field for more than 20 years. He is an award-winning author, public speaker, and instructor on a variety of technology topics including security, virtualization, cloud computing, wireless and wired networking, and IT lifecycle processes. His operations experience includes managing the Xbox LIVE operations team, the largest cloud computing operations team in the world, and consulting on operations efficiency with countless clients around the world. Mike has published several books (including two for O’Reilly) and numerous papers. He is a frequent conference speaker and classroom instructor on IT operations, computer security, and technology frameworks. Mike holds a number of certifications and accreditations including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) practitioner and instructor.

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