In the increasingly connected and mobile world we live in, wireless networks are a fundamental part of everyday life. Wi-Fi has become an integral part of every day, whether that is at home, in the office or a public place such as an airport or coffee shop. Wi-Fi is a functionality built into nearly all modern devices, from Smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs and smart home devices such as speakers, video doorbells and even coffee makers. The ability to access the internet wire free, makes these devices work the way they do.

However, is the convenience of these devices worth the security risk it brings?

The risks of wireless networks

The risks of wireless networks often originate from the way that they work. Wireless networks rely on radio waves to transmit data between devices. The Wireless access point (sometimes referred to as the wireless router) will broadcast signals that compatible devices (such as smartphones or laptops) use to send and receive data.
This method can expose users to a selection of security vulnerabilities. The most common risks associated with wireless networks are

  1. Eavesdropping – Once connected to a network, anyone connected with the right tools can eavesdrop on the data. If the data is unencrypted, it is possible for the attacker to read this simply. If this data was sensitive, such as personal information or login information, the attacker would have easy access to this.
  2. Man in the middle attacks – Attackers can play piggy in the middle with your data, sitting between you and the router intercepting data and modifying it before it reaches its destination. This can lead to changed data, manipulated data and unauthorised access. These attacks can be done manually by an attacker, or they can automate it with a computer system.
  3. Network spoofing – This can be a major issue if executed effectively. The attacker will create a rogue wireless network with familiar names to trick users into connecting to it. This enables the attacker to monitor and manipulate all traffic through the network.
  4. Password cracking – Using a weak or the default password on wireless routers makes it easy for an attacker to gain access to the network and compromise the connected device. They can also access the administration of the wireless routers allowing them to make fundamental network changes, which may not be noticeable but can cause all data to be sent to unknown and untrusted locations.
  5. Malware Distribution – Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in connected devices to distribute malware. This will infect the device with malicious software that can cause a variety of issues both to the operation of the device and also to the data that is stored on it.

Enhancing Wireless network security

While the risks cannot be fully mitigated there are several steps you can take to massively reduce the risk.

  1. Ensure the networks you connect to uses encryption – Protocols like WPA2 or WPA3 provide data encryption for wireless network traffic during transmissions. This is only effective if the attacker is unable to connect to the network.
  2. Strong passwords – Setting strong and unique passwords for your wireless router to use for connection and also for administration. Avoid using common passwords or the default credentials as this makes your network easier to breach making it more appealing to attackers.
  3. Enable two factor authentication in all areas possible – Enabling two factor authentication to your online accounts provides an additional step beyond your password when logging into the site. This is especially useful if your password was to be breached, as an attacker would be unable to log in without your additional verification code.
  4. Using a VPN – A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can add an extra layer of security to wireless network communication by encrypting all internet traffic and protecting data even when connected to an insecure network.
  5. Keeping software and applications updated – Regularly updating the software and applications on all devices you connect to a wireless network will help patch security vulnerabilities making spreading malware to your device over a wireless network (and in general) more difficult. It is also important to regularly update the software that the router uses as well as the firmware of any other equipment on your network.
  6. Awareness when connecting to public networks – Public networks can be incredibly useful, however, they can be incredibly dangerous. If necessary to connect to these networks, it is important to be cautious about what you access, avoid accessing sensitive information, such as online banking and avoid making payments, such as online shopping, on these networks.

Wireless networks have revolutionised the way people interact with the internet despite the security risks they can expose users to. The challenges can be significant to make a wireless network secure, with technical controls and a requirement to understand the risks associated with wireless networks. Staying Cyber Wise is critical in this changing digital world get in touch to see how you can today.

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