Bigger, better, faster, now security doesnt have to be a barrier to 802.11n adoption

802.11n wireless networks and voice over wireless are set for growth. However, while security concerns should not be overlooked they need not be a barrier to high capacity and speeds, states Ian Schenkel, MD EMEA of AirMagnet. 

The new high speed Wi-Fi standard, 802.11n, promises users increased network speeds and reliability with raw data throughput theoretically capable of reaching as much as 600 Mbps, over 10 times that of 802.11g. Demand for 802.11n networks is set to be a key driver for wireless networks in 2008 as organisations look to increase speed and bandwidth for data intensive applications. 

The new 802.11n technology is designed to solve the throughput problem for business users, opening the way to more applications including wireless voice over IP, videoconferencing, high-definition TV streams and other multimedia applications. With many companies switching to VoIP for voice traffic, 802.11ns ability to support VoIP, particularly when multiple users are on the same access point, will be a key factor in its uptake.  

However, security concerns fundamental to ensuring performance levels, should not be overlooked by bandwidth-hungry early adopters, urges AirMagnet. While there are not yet any known vulnerabilities or attacks specific to 802.11n, this is not to say that they will not develop in line with the technology itself. Ian Schenkel, MD EMEA at AirMagnet, comments:

If we cast our mind back, there were no recorded vulnerabilities when 802.11a first entered the market. 802.11n may also be open to new forms of attacks as it enters the mainstream.

802.11n includes mechanisms such as block acknowledgements* that can complicate the MAC layer and open the door to exploitation in a way that previous standards have not. In addition, the physical layer of 802.11n includes 40MHz modes and complex legacy protection mechanisms which may open it up to slightly modified denial-of-service attack that could cripple the sought-after benefits of 802.11n. 

Schenkel continues: Despite these potential long-term concerns, the short-term security issues to threaten 802.11n will simply be the same as those that have threatened older wireless technology. Its a clear cut case of more of the same, just with a slightly different flavour.

These threats include:

  • Rogue access points as new laptops are increasingly fitted with an in-built 802.11n-capable network adapter it means that even if the corporate network has not moved to 802.11n, some users may instead decide to install a consumer-grade 802.11n access point on the corporate network, risking the security and performance of the existing wireless infrastructure
  • Access bleed Given 802.11ns improved range performance, IT departments will need to consider the limits of any 802.11n wireless deployment. Ensuring that range is limited and implementing a wireless privacy standard will be a must for all businesses wishing to keep out prying eyes

Schenkel continues: These potential security concerns can be easily addressed using a variety of different methods. For example, point monitoring using a mobile device or laptop solution allows users to identify isolated risks. Ad hoc or continuous monitoring with an enterprise level tool which alerts users to any potential threats or security weaknesses, in some cases proactively scanning the network for potential issues, adds a further level of security to protect users.

About AirMagnet Inc.

AirMagnet Inc. is the leader in security, performance and compliance solutions for wireless LANs. The company's innovative products include AirMagnet Enterprise, the leading 24x7 WLAN security and performance management solution, and AirMagnet Laptop Analyzer which is known as the "de facto tool for wireless LAN troubleshooting and analysis." Other products provide WLAN site survey and design, RF interference detection, remote diagnostics, and the world's first voice over WiFi analysis solution. AirMagnet has more than 7,500 customers worldwide, including 75 of the Fortune 100. The company, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has offices worldwide.

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