Wireless adds a new twist to security headaches

One of the biggest emerging issues for network management is dealing with wireless LANs. The popularity of the IEEE 802.11b Ethernet standard, known as WiFi, has soared, partially because of its low cost and ease of installation.

At the same time, keeping control over the network has become something of a nightmare'also because of WiFi's low cost and ease of installation.

An access point can be bought for as little as $100, well within most limits on discretionary spending. But the limited security on WiFi networks, especially those set up with default configurations and easily guessed passwords, makes them a potential network management headache.

Open-source tools such as Network Stumbler, at www.netstumbler.com, can help network managers nail down where open access points are within their network. The tool uses Global Positioning System data to map the location of access points as well, so it's useful in finding renegade access points as well as planning where to place authorized ones for optimal coverage.

It's also used by the 'warwalker' and 'wardriver' community'people who travel with a wireless-equipped computer or handheld in search of free bandwidth.

Several commercial products are available for WiFi tracking and management as well, including Sniffer Portable Wireless from Network Associates Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., which runs on Hewlett-Packard Co. iPaq handheld computers.

Of course, the best way to control the threat of unsecured wireless access points is to enforce standards for deploying them. It also helps that wireless access points are getting more secure: Fortress Technologies of Tampa, Fla., recently introduced the first 802.11b wireless access point compliant with Federal Information Processing Standard requirements.

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