Security Issues in IEEE Wlan Term Paper

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Despite its clear benefits and advantages in terms of ease of use and cost effectiveness, there are certain risks associated with wireless networking. These risks are discussed further below.

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Security Risks Associated with IEEE WLAN 802.11. The applications for wireless communication technology continue to develop and expand; today, at least, the 802.11b is the standard of choice for wireless router communication used with network installation (Gonazles & Higby 2003). "The integrity of the transmitted data is a valid 2.4 GHz. At this wavelength medium, the propagation of wavelength maintains strong connectivity" (Gonzales & Higby 2003, p. 30). The technology of WLANs actually dates back to the mid-1980s; during this period, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) freed up radio frequency (rf) to the industry. "Initially, this was viewed as a broadcast reception procedure and very little thought went to broadcast transmission" (Gonzales & Higby 2003, p. 30). Early innovations in rf transmission at a local network (today called a WLAN) were fairly slow; however, in the last part of the 1990s, the IEEE introduced a new standard that would fuel growth in rf transmission technologies; the key standard was 802.11 which increased bandwidth enormously (Gonzales & Higby 2003).

According to Gonzales and Higby, IEEE first developed the 802.11 standard in 1997, thereby providing a base for WLANs. It was the goal of the IEEE at this time to design a standard that would support Ethernet networks used for medium-range and higher data rate applications. This concept was immediately adapted to deliver a standard for mobile and portable stations, and continued improvements included designing 802.11a, which provides high-speed connectivity to WLANs that operate on the 5 GHz band and support speeds up to 54 Mbps have taken place; the application of orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) has allowed 802.11a to deliver such high speeds (Gonzales & Higby 2003).

In 1999, the IEEE promulgated another standard, known as 802.11b. This newer standard operated in an unlicensed area on the 2.4-2.8 GHz band, transmitted in direct sequence spread spectrum (DSSS), and supported up to 11 Mbps. The IEEE 802.11b is the dominant standard for current WLAN systems today because it can deliver sufficient speeds for the majority of applications used today. "Unfortunately, due to 802.11b's popularity, the standard has been unintentionally exposed to many security weaknesses. These issues are now a high-priority and are being addressed by several research-and-development teams" (emphasis added) (Gonzales & Higby 2003, p. 31).

Other IEEE research standards currently under development include 802.1x, 802.11g, and 802.11i. All of these initiatives focus on the identified security issues and faster transmission rates being brought to bear on the technology. The first, 802.1x was a port-level access control protocol that provided a security framework for Ethernet LANs and WLANs under the IEEE standard. The 802.1x standard provided a framework that supported stronger user authentication as well as a centralized security management model that included a client machine, an authenticator, and a Layer 2 device that provides a physical port to the network, an access point, or a switch. "802.1x supports an important part of network access by verifying user credentials and providing key management. Several authentication methods have included a server or database service for user authentication including remote authentication dial-in user service (RADIUS), Microsoft's Active Directory, Windows NT Domains and Trusts, and an LDAP directory" (Gonzales & Higby 2003, p. 31). Standard 802.11i was specifically designed to address the identified security concerns involving WLANs; however, this initiative remains in the early development phase; Gonazeles and Higby report that this standard addresses wired equivalent privacy (WEP) vulnerabilities with improvements to 802.11 equipment.

All of this effort is not being driven in isolation from the marketplace. Consumers and businesses are confronted with a wide range of newer mobile devices such as laptops, cell phones, and personal digital assistants (PDAs) that have been the source for the recent increased demand for wireless mobility. These new devices provide users with the ability to take complete advantage of these innovative technologies and people are exploring even more ways to use these devices. The key advantage of wireless communication involves reduced costs as compared with the expense of wired installations. The recent laptop specifications of RAM, CPU speeds, and hard disk storage have also facilitated wireless communication. Today, a number of computer manufacturers are developing mobile devices that come complete with built-in capabilities of wireless connectivity that support 802.11b and 802.11g. The advantages to users included increased productivity during travel time. "The emergence of wireless broadband provides a good alternative to wired networks in terms of cost of implementation and feasibility of retrofits in situations involving inaccessible wiring. In many instances, wired infrastructure would prove quite impractical" (Gonzales & Higby 2003, p. 32). While wireless broadcasting does have some constraints, the technology continues to enjoy widespread popularity across the United States and other countries, such as Korea and Japan. The hardware required to establish a wireless infrastructure has been dropping in price and a number of companies are providing wire less routers, hubs, switches, and network adapters that support out-of-the-box functionality. For example, Gonzales and Higby point out that a competitive price for a wireless router with one wide area network port (WAN) and four CAT5 ports cost just $124. A short time ago, this product would have been sold for more than twice that amount and would likely have had less functionality. Furthermore, in its infrastructure mode, a maximum 2048 wireless nodes can be supported; in ad-hoc mode, the number decreases significantly to 256, due mostly to additional overhead and lower available bandwidth; nevertheless, the increasing demand for these innovative products has resulted in increased production and lower prices to consumers. "The wireless network interface card that supports 802.11b costs about $60 in the U.S." (Gonzales & Higby 2003, p. 32). These authors suggest purchasing a card that supports 802.11g because of integrated compatibility with 802.11b and the benefit of increased bandwidth of 54 Mbps; however, compatibility concerns have recently emerged concerning roaming between wireless access points that include standards 802.11b and 802.11g (Gonzales & Higby 2003).

According to Gonazels and Higby, the "hot spot" is a most interesting phenomenon. "We have noticed that wavelength propagation is stronger in some areas than in others. A very strong wireless signal is called a hot spot. Sometimes, we cannot control the restrictions to wireless transmission/reception, but we can move our access point within the environment to find better reception" (Gonzales & Higby 2003, p. 31). Industry consultant Steve Alexander reports that within a radius of 9-90 m (30-300 ft) from the hot spot's antenna, computers that are equipped with Wi-Fi circuit cards or chips could connect to the Internet without visible communications links. Two commonly used versions of Wi-Fi, 802.11b and 802.11g, enabled wireless transmission speeds of 11 million bits per second (bps) or 54 million bits. "Next-generation Wi-Fi standards being developed held out the promise of speeds of 200 million bps or more" (Alexander 2004, p. 7). A number of businesses, such as Starbucks coffee shops and McDonald's restaurants, have implemented charges for customers using their Wi-Fi services; other companies have elected to offer the service for free in order to attract customers. "Free service was practical because Wi-Fi equipment was relatively inexpensive and because many businesses already had high-speed connections to the Internet that also could handle the added Wi-Fi traffic" (Alexander 2004, p. 7). In 2004, Intel introduced its new Centrino microchips that provided laptops with built-in Wi-Fi capability; further, new Wi-Fi accessories for videogame consoles simplified playing games over the Internet by connecting game machines in the living room to a high-speed Internet connection in another part of the home (Alexander 2004).

Despite these distinct advantages, Wi-Fi remains in its early stages and for-pay hot spots were expected to generate no more than $20 million-$60 million in annual revenue in the U.S. this year. Nevertheless, some analysts have estimated that Wi-Fi revenue could reach $1 billion or more in the U.S. By 2008. Cellular telephone companies appeared to represent the most significant Wi-Fi providers; T-Mobile was identified as an early entrant that provided service in more than 2,500 bookstores and coffee shops. Conventional wired telephone companies viewed Wi-Fi as an extra service they could use to keep digital subscriber line (DSL) customers from taking advantage of new innovations in cable modems operating over cable TV networks. For instance, Alexander points out that Verizon Communications, the largest U.S. local telephone company, continued to add hot spots in parts of New York City. "It offered free use of the hot spots to customers of its wired DSL service" (Alexander 2004, p. 8). As the medium gained acceptance and increased use, Wi-Fi also created new security problems for the consumers who were not prepared for the new environment. "People using public hot spots might have their e-mail communications intercepted by others, and home and business owners of Wi-Fi networks did not always…[continue]


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