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No Strings (Wires) Attached: Wireless LANs, Part IV

Posted in Cisco Certification with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2011 by jjrinehart
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Up to NO Good!

When the 802.11 wireless standard first came out, security was seemingly an afterthought…one of the greatest criticisms of the technology in the “early days” was the fact that just about anyone could access the wireless medium with relative ease.  Stories abounded of hackers with antenna arrays made out of Pringle’s cans not only getting access to a company’s network, but having access to restricted information resources as well.  To combat these very real threats, the first security measure, called Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, was released.

Any early adopter of technology will tell you that the first release of just about anything, now matter how cool, is going to have some significant problems.  Most seasoned engineers or administrators will typically pass on the first release of a new product or version of code for that very reason (why make your job harder than it needs to be, right?)  WEP was no exception to that rule, for several reasons.  First, it used static preshared keys that were rarely, if ever, changed.  I know of a large healthcare institution where an ex-employee, just out of curiosity, checked to see if the WEP keys one supposedly secure wireless network had been changed, after several years of being gone.  Not only were the WEP keys the same, but so were most of the passwords on the servers and network!  Had this individual had unhealthy motives, it could have resulted in a significant security breach resulting in RGE’s (resume generating events) for members of the network staff.  To complicate the death knell for WEP, the keys were easily cracked and the methods for doing so were readily available to both the hacker community as well as publicized on the Internet.  NOT a good start for wireless security.

The next generation of wireless security was advanced by the Wi-Fi Alliance, and titled WPA or Wi-Fi Protected Access.  WPA introduced more thorough methods of authentication (that is, verification of the identity of legitimate users before granting access) as well as strong encryption.  WPA was released prior to an actually IEEE standard, so not long after WPA2 was released, matched to the 802.11i standard, and made even stronger, particularly on the encryption front.

The final area of wireless security had nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with policy management: security policies.  Many times the reasons networks have serious points of vulnerability have less to do with technology protection mechanisms and more to do with the foibles of internal users.  A strong security policy can prevent either intentional or unintentional problems by regulating risky behavior.  Next time, we will consider IP addressing and services…

– Joe

No Strings (Wires) Attached: Wireless LANs, Part III

Posted in Cisco Certification with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2011 by jjrinehart

Accidental Brilliance!

As with many inventions, microwave ovens were actually invented by accident. Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, was touring a factory and was standing close to a magnetron, (a device which provided the heart of radar systems at the close of World War II). He noticed that a candy bar in his
pocket began melting as he stood close to the machine, and then called for a bag of popcorn, which began popping within minutes of getting close to the
machine. The reason for including this seemingly irrelevant history lesson?
Simply put, it introduces the subject of the Industrial, Scientific, and Mechanical (ISM) unlicensed radio bands. In 1985, The FCC gave permission for
general use of a group of frequencies without requiring government-issued licenses, which is why it is often referred to an unlicensed spectrum. The
frequencies within this allocated space included 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.0 GHz, which then spawned an entire range of wireless-enabled devices on the market.  Early cordless phones, for example, usd the 900 MHz range, with newer ones using the 2.4 GHz range, along with our friend, the microwave oven.

The first generation of just about anything, whether hardware, software, cellular phones, always starts out with a very small group of early
adopters. This group tends to love gadgets, are willing to pay a premium, and tolerant of initial “bugginess.” As the technology gains popularity,
costs begin to drop, the rough edges get smoothed out, and the rates of sales and usage starts to grow, and eventually skyrocket. Wireless networking is no
different, as when the original 802.11 devices were released, with only 1-2 Mbps speeds and clunky/proprietary implementations. The “golden
ticket” came with the introduction of 802.11b devices in 1999, which operated in the 2.4 GHz frequency band and speeds of 11 Mbps using a modulation called
Digital Sequence Spread Spectrum, or DSSS. Ironically, 802.11a was released at the same time, which boasted speeds of up to 54 Mbps in the 5.0 GHz range using Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM), but the greater cost and lower adoption made it far less popular. Companies such as Linksys, D-Link, and others on the consumer side and Cisco on the business side flooded the market with affordable 802.11b access points and client adapters and pushed wireless network access into “prime time.” While it was an interesting time for service providers trying to offer subscription-based services, the hardware
side fared pretty well.

Wireless technology is now offered as standard on laptops, cellular phones, printers, and an entire plethora of other devices, making it
certain that it is here to stay.  There are drawbacks to wireless LAN technologies, which is what we will consider next time.

– Joe