Your Small Business Needs a Secure Wi-Fi Network
Securing valuable company data, a fundamental component of any successful business, starts with securing the Wi-Fi network where it resides. Wi-Fi, that ubiquitous fog of magical signals that wirelessly connects us to the world around us, has become more or less essential to every modern technology user. After all, in today’s era of constant connectivity, it’s no longer enough to be able to connect at every local Starbucks and college library. Users expect to plug in at airports, gas stations, and even the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices. In fact, 75% of people have said that one week without Wi-Fi would leave them grumpier than one week without coffee.
Despite how frustrating it may be to be forced to flip through a real magazine, for a casual Wi-Fi user, being unable to connect in order to keep a restless mind at bay is still only a mere inconvenience. However, for most businesses, the freedom from wires is a necessity that many companies simply cannot function without. Therefore, ensuring that your organization employs adequate Wi-Fi security measures to protect company files, online accounts, and user privacy is vital for company success.
Naturally, any data that is wirelessly flying through the air needs to be secured in order to protect it from those all-too-eager to snatch it. When you initially purchase a Wi-Fi router and access points, they are not inherently secure. This means that without encryption, nearby users can easily hop onto your network. At the very least, these wireless freeloaders can slow down your networking by surfing and downloading; and at the very worst, they can gain access to PCs and files, pilfer passwords, and even hijack your accounts for websites that don’t use SSL encryption (E.g. Facebook and Twitter).
Choosing the Right Level of Wi-Fi Security
Establishing a secure Wi-Fi network requires more than simply plugging in your router and setting a password. That little acronym you see next to the security encryption standard on your router's Wi-Fi options could mean the difference between flimsy and foolproof security. Most routers enable you to to choose between WEP (least secure), WPA (acceptably secure), and WPA2 encryption (best security).
Wired Equivalent Protocol (WEP)
WEP is the most basic level of protection and may be implemented by your Internet Service Provider when they set up your Wi-Fi network. Although it is the most widely used security algorithm in the world, due to it’s breakable nature, WEP only provides protection only from casual Wi-Fi users and is therefore not recommended for transmitting sensitive corporate data.
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)
Released in 2003, WPA was a direct response to many of the vulnerabilities of the WEP standard, offering significant security improvements to the old protocol. WPA can be utilized in either personal or enterprise mode.
WPA - Personal Mode
In Personal mode, which is recommended only if your network has a couple of users, all computers and devices connecting to the network are set up with the same encryption passphrase. While still more secure than WEP, in this mode, your network is vulnerable to “brute-force or “dictionary cracking” attacks where hackers may be able to gain entry into your systems. Moreover, if an employee leaves the company or a device is lost or stolen, then you must change the password on all access points and every Wi-Fi device.
WPA Enterprise Mode
In Enterprise mode, rather than a universal passphrase, each Wi-Fi user logs into the network with their own username and password, lending increased security. This prevents other users from snooping on their coworkers or stealing their passwords since the encryption keys are unique to each session. Furthermore, only one user’s login information must be changed if an employee leaves the company or a device is lost or stolen.
Wi-Fi Protected Access II
WPA2 was released in 2006 and is currently the most secure wireless network protocol. The most significant different between WPA and WPA2 is the latter’s mandatory use of AES algorithms for encrypting data. Like WPA, WPA2 can also be utilized in Personal or Enterprise mode. Currently, the primary security vulnerability to the actual WPA2 system is rather obscure and requires the attacker to already have access to the secured Wi-Fi network in order to perpetuate an attack. However, just like WPA networks, WPA2 is still vulnerable to “brute-force” or “dictionary cracking” attacks, although these would take an attacker significantly more time and effort to be successful.
Further Network Security Measures
Now that you’ve swallowed your daily quota of technology babble, let’s get down to some practical solutions for protecting your Wi-Fi network
1. Create a guest Wi-Fi Network: Having a separate, secondary wireless network with it’s own username and password allows visitors to connect to Wi-Fi without potentially exposing your internal systems to malware that may reside on their devices and sneak its way onto your network.
2. Update Your Router’s Firmware: In the frenzy of updating our applications, PCs, smartphones, etc., we often forget that our Wi-Fi router’s firmware needs updating as well. Updating your router’s firmware will fix bugs—including security vulnerabilities—and may even improve wireless performance. If your router doesn’t download updates automatically, you can find the newest firmware update under the administrative console.
3. Change the router’s default admin password: A malicious hacker can easily find the default passwords for many common routers on the Internet, allowing him/her to hijack your network to launch a DDoS attack through your router. Furthermore, someone could also change your network’s DNS settings, redirecting your network’s Web traffic to fraudulent sites that can steal user’s sensitive information. (In fact, such an attack was carried out recently through spam emails.
We do so much to keep our data out of the wrong hands. Securing your Wi-Fi is one vital component for comprehensive data protection that you can easily check off your list today.