Getting Past WLAN ‘Apathy’

Steve McCuchin knew he had to do something about 802.11b security after
finding out how easy it was to download tools designed to break into his

A senior network administrator for the State of North Carolina’s Department
of Public Instruction, overseeing the security of 2,400 K-12 schools in the
state, he was well aware of the potential problems a hacker could cause if
given access to PCs eyeballed by thousands of school children.

“We hadn’t had any known problems, but like everybody else, we started to
see things come up,” McCuchin said. “We downloaded some free tools and
started to see how easy it was to find wireless networks around the
city. So we decided before we get hacked, we’d try to be a little

His solution? Get his bosses to approve more resources to beef up the state’s
wireless network before an incident happened. With almost 100 of the
schools in the state already sporting wireless access points (APs) and many
more exploring the technology, he was able to convince the bureaucracy to
free up more money pay the IT staff to properly configure WiFi-connected
networks before something happened.

Not all corporate IT departments are as lucky as McCuchin; in most cases,
IT departments are under-funded and under-qualified to deal with their own
802.11b networks, a situation that leaves corporate intranets open to a
growing legion of wireless enthusiasts looking to sniff out wireless
hotspots, whether it’s legal or not.

Wardriving is in
Wardriving has received a lot of attention in the press lately. Stories of
people around the country with a lot of time on their hands — armed with
Pringles cans for antennas, a laptop running a wireless AP network
“sniffer” program, a PMCIA card and a piece
of chalk — and mapping out a national “hotspot” map should be enough to send executives scrambling to ensure their network is up to snuff.

NetStumbler, by far the most popular — though not the only one — for example,
has 18,474 registered users. Most of its users spend their free time
driving throughout the city looking for the next “open” network.

The Web site’s national map has tagged hotspots throughout the U.S., with
breakouts by city and state. Two University of Kansas researchers have
even come up with a method for cr
full-color images showing the reach of wireless networks on maps.

NetStumbler’s creators, to their credit, give businesses the option to have
their AP taken off the map, so to speak, but if an IT staff doesn’t know
enough to set up a wireless network in the first place or have enough time
to set it up correctly, they aren’t likely going to know their network’s
availability is general knowledge.

According to Mark Coley, a security consultant with HCS Systems, most IT
departments don’t have the money or inclination to fix their wireless

“There’s an increasing amount of apathy when it comes to wireless
security,” he said. “In many cases, you’ll see networks where they’ve put
the access point inside the firewall and mistakenly place them on
workstation subnets where DHCP from the servers is available. My advice is
to place them outside the firewall and treat them as external interfaces.”

The end result is a comprehensive wired-network intranet that is loaded
with virtual private networking (VPN) equipment, secure routers and
firewalls — all for naught because of an AP sitting inside the firewall,
open to the world for anyone with a little know-how to access.