Network security: truism or oxymoron?

Network security: truism or oxymoron?

How secure is your business, really?  The truth is, businesses often trade a false sense of security for the real thing. 

With risk factors being in the hundreds and hackers being in the thousands, keeping up with the latest security measures seems overwhelming. Attacks come from many different directions, and some security measures can actually make you less secure (witness the recent shutdown of city and state computer systems after a McAfee update download was found to contain a virus).

For every one person working to prevent hacker intrusions, there are five hackers attempting intrusion.  While the battle might sound hopeless on paper, proper virus protection, firewalls and Internet security options installed and kept up to date, wired networks can keep reasonably secure. 

While there are still many risks to wired networks, the biggest threats to businesses or home users today is wireless network intrusion. 

Hackers are 50 percent more likely to consider your network a target if you have a wireless connectivity option. Of the 1 in 10 Americans who have been a victim of identity theft, 60 percent of them had their information stolen from a business via a network breach. 

So, should you just forego the wireless options? No, don't eliminate the latest and greatest in network connectivity. Instead, just make sure you know how to protect yourself and implement appropriate security.   

Consider your three main options in securing a wireless network.  You have Unsecured, WEP or WPA2.  So what do these mean? 

Well, unsecured is self explanatory.  It is comparable to leaving your windows open and doors unlocked when leaving for vacation.  You just shouldn't do it. 

WEP, which stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy, is the lowest level of wireless security you can enable. It was the default encryption protocol introduced in the first IEEE 802.11 standard back in 1999. WEP is based on the RC4 Algorithm, which has a secret key of 40 or 104 bits combined with a 24-bit Initialization Vector (IV). Because the IV is only 24 bits, there are only about 16.7 million possible key variations.  Although 16.7 million seems like a big number, it is nothing for today's computers to hack in less than ten minutes. Also, in WEP that IV is chosen randomly for each packet. This means that after transmitting packets for a few minutes, you have a 50 percent chance of reusing an IV. This makes decryption very easy. 

WEP security is comparable to locking the doors and windows in your home or business, but failing to set the security alarm. A crook would take a few minutes to pick a lock and be right in.  Cracking a WEP key isn't much harder and does not require an experienced hacker.

WPA2, which stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access, is the latest in wireless security. WPA2 uses a 256-bit encryption, considerably more than WEP.  Within those 256 bits, WPA2 uses 48 bits to create the IV, where WEP used only 24.  With the added bits to the IV, WPA2 allows for over 500 trillion possible key variations. Also, unlike in WEP, these IV keys are not ever reused, providing much better security against a hacker.

A few key words in Google will quickly make available several free programs used to crack WEP key encryption. To date, it is widely agreed that, with a strong passphrase, WPA2 is extremely difficult to hack.  While technology develops quickly around us, demand for constant access to information grows.  Protecting that information is sometimes difficult. 

Here are some tips for home and business users to help keep you secure:

• Use WPA2 security on your wireless networks.

• Never do online banking or shopping from a Wi-Fi hotspot.

• For business networks: Never share files that contain financial data, customer information or other confidential information over a wireless network.

• Never save your passwords on your computer and say no to dialog boxes that ask to save any data, including passwords, credit card or payment information, or any other personal information.

• Although they are popular, eliminate any file sharing or peer to peer programs, such as Limewire, on your computer.  In addition to virus threats, hackers have easy access to your files if you let them in.  This is comparable to letting someone in who has knocked on your door and has asked to rob you.

If you are uncertain about your network security, hire professionals to do it for you.

Original article by: John Bush


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