Securing your wireless network

Security issues in wireless networks


Wireless local area networks (WLANs) transmit and receive data using radio waves rather than wires. This lack of a physical barrier makes WLANs vulnerable to unlawful interception, eavesdropping, hacking and a range of other cyber security issues.

Wireless network security issues and threats

Three most common WLAN security threats include:

  • denial of service attacks - where the intruder floods the network with messages affecting the availability of the network resources
  • spoofing and session hijacking - where the attacker gains access to network data and resources by assuming the identity of a valid user
  • eavesdropping - where unauthorised third-parties intercept the data being transmitted over the secure network

To counter these threats, you should make every effort to configure your WLAN correctly. You should also enable a range of security features, such as standard authentication and encryption, alongside other access control mechanisms.

Basic WLAN security features

Early WLAN hardware used a number of basic security methods, including:

  • Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs) - these prevent connection to access points unless a device uses a given identifier correctly
  • Media Access Control (MAC) - this involves using addresses attached to each device to limit connection to access points
  • Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) - WEP uses encryption keys so that only devices with the correct key can communicate with access points

WEP still exists in many devices as users have found compatibility problems when introducing new equipment. However, WEP has been proven ineffective against hackers. You should consider upgrading any devices relying on this technology.

Even with all these security measures combined, basic WLAN features cannot guarantee that your network will remain secure. What is more, WLAN equipment often comes with the security measures switched off entirely. If you don't switch these on, then you have absolutely no security at all.

Upgrade your WLAN security protocols

If you are using a WLAN that relies only on these basic security features, it is crucial that they are correctly set up and working. Preferably, you should upgrade to more modern security methods, such as Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) and WPA2.

Read more about Wi-Fi protected access (WPA).