What is wireless network security? Wireless network security combines tools and software that protect a wireless network from external attacks.
Are Wireless Networks at Risk?
The short answer is that, in many cases, all networks are at some level of risk.
Internet connections are prone to security breaches due either to the practices of individual users on the network or to poor security configurations on the network hardware or software.
Generally speaking, such vulnerabilities can be broken down into two different categories:
Physical Network Vulnerabilities
Physical vulnerabilities affect the physical devices connected to or powering a wireless network. Such vulnerabilities can include direct attacks against servers, network hardware, or user devices. These kinds of attacks, while still potentially dangerous, are less common due to the difficulty of enacting them. Hackers need to implement complex social engineering or deception-based campaigns to access physical systems.
Non-Physical Network Vulnerabilities
These vulnerabilities include network attacks that many of us are more familiar with—attacks against network encryption or authentication services, router software, and even user devices connected to the network itself.
Like many cybersecurity issues, an actual vulnerability can come from almost anywhere. Hackers are pretty ingenious in the ways in which they can leverage seemingly innocent interactions or events and gain access to an entire wireless network.
Attackers can compromise the actual hardware or software of the network, including attacking routers or access points. Additionally, if a computer attached to the network is compromised, hackers can potentially compromise the whole network.
Vulnerabilities only become more pronounced when working with unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Like those open to use in public spaces or (in rare cases) serving offices or homes without proper protection or authentication controls, available wireless networks are especially vulnerable, as are any devices connected.
What Are the Types of Wireless Security?
Encryption and authentication protocols are at the forefront of wireless security attached to access points and routers. These protocols control the obfuscation of data traveling over network signals so that outsiders cannot see private information unless connected. Users must provide authentication credentials to send and receive data on their device.
There are purpose-built encryption and security protocols that apply to wireless networks:
- Wired Equivalent Privacy: Released with the original IEEE 802.11 wireless network standard, WEP was the first encryption and security protocol for wireless networks. WEP uses up to 128-bit encryption keys for consumer devices and, in some cases, 152-bit or 256-bit from specialist vendors. The standard was studied, and, in 2001, researchers discovered that network analysis could break the encryption of wireless traffic in as little as a minute. WEP has, therefore, long been deprecated as a form of Wi-Fi security.
- Wi-Fi Protected Access: Released by the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2003, WPA sought to address the weakness of WEP by introducing longer passkey phrase requirements to access wireless networks and dynamic 128- or 256-bit encryption key generation for each network packet to prevent the same cracks that emerged under WEP. WPA still suffers security flaws, including breaches from weak passwords and allowing hackers to inject malicious packets into Wi-Fi signals outside the network.
- Wi-Fi Protected Access 2: WPA2 addresses flaws in WPA encryption by requiring adherence to advanced AES standards. These standards provide better protection over data packets with encryption and integrity checks.
- Wi-Fi Protected Access 3: With certifications beginning in 2018, WPA3 introduces even more powerful encryption (192-bit strength in Enterprise mode and 256-bit in GCM mode) and more secure initial key-exchange requirements. WPA3 is purpose-built for Wi-Fi 6 networks.
Modern hardware will invariably fall under either WPA2 or WPA3 security.
Additionally, users can protect their activity on wireless networks with a few other technologies and practices:
- Virtual Private Networks: VPNs are specialized encryption “tunnels” that allow users to connect to private networks over public internet connections. These networks use encryption and identity authentication to allow users to connect to these private networks as if they were physically connecting to them.
- Media Access Control Address: MAC addresses are often used to authenticate devices on a network. MAC addresses are unique identifiers associated with device hardware and can denote that a trusted device is connecting to that network. However, MAC addresses can be spoofed, and so they are rarely used alone.
- Security Software: Some wireless network devices like routers and access points will come with security software installed, including firewall or anti-malware tools to prevent malicious attacks against those devices or the network itself.
What Are Wi-Fi Network Security Devices
Many administrators implement network security devices alongside encryption, software, and other network security tools. These devices are dedicated hardware with administrator controls to add another layer of security that relates directly to network traffic and attacks against wireless signals.
The common forms of wireless network security devices include the following:
- Active Network Security: These devices actively monitor network traffic and block access to any traffic from untrusted, adversarial, or outside traffic. These can include devices that implement firewalls and anti-malware services or perform active scanning and filtering capabilities.
- Passive Network Security: Unlike active devices that readily reject network traffic, passive devices detect untrusted or adversarial traffic and report it to administrators, often through audit logs or dashboards. These can help prevent more continuous threats, like man-in-the-middle attacks.
- Preventative Network Security: Preventive security systems can perform regular intrusion or vulnerability network scans to detect specific network attacks. These scans are often part of continuous monitoring requirements associated with compliance regulations.
- Unified Threat Management: UTM systems can incorporate aspects of active, passive, and preventive security systems to centralize network security into a single management point. From here, network managers can administer security comprehensively as needed.
Maintain Your Wi-Fi Security with Meter
Enterprise Wi-Fi networks call for several of the discussed security measures here: properly configured WPA2 or WPA3 security, security devices, and ongoing monitoring and upgrading. That’s why many enterprises turn to managed Wi-Fi services to help them keep the highest levels of security and continuous monitoring without sacrificing performance.
Meter places security at the forefront of our enterprise Wi-Fi services. We provide wireless network surveys, design, implementation, firewalls, security configuration, and ongoing administration. Contact us to discuss network design if you’re interested in comprehensive management and security for your Wi-Fi network. Also, if you’re considering switching business internet providers, use the Meter Connect business ISP directory to find the best deals in your area.
Special thanks to
for reviewing this post.