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Best Practices in Wi-Fi Security

December 1, 2003
Related Topics: Technology and the Law, Policies and Procedures, Featured Article, Technology

Grappling with Wi-Fi security isn’t just an IT issue; individual employees have the power to use wireless wisely in the office, at home or on the road--or not. Here are some pointers for making every Wi-Fi-enabled worker a guardian of your company’s vital assets:

  • Implement a wireless communications policy that makes employees personally responsible for Wi-Fi security. Back it up with severe penalties for violations, and statements from senior management emphasizing the importance of safeguarding company data.

  • Train remote Wi-Fi users in the fundamentals of cautious computing--coining complex passwords, updating anti-virus software regularly and encrypting e-mails and file transfers. Take into account your company’s culture and the target audience’s level of computer knowledge in arranging either formal classes or online tutorials.

  • Forbid under any circumstances unauthorized access points--Wi-Fi routers, in tech parlance. Make it known that somebody in IT will scan the network regularly for rogue routers (using software that "sniffs" out Wi-Fi transmissions), and remove them immediately.

  • Require home-office workers to shield their Wi-Fi networks with a firewall gateway system. This piece of hardware sits between the router and the wired Internet, making it tougher for a hacker to break into a connected desktop or notebook PC.

  • Insist that employees actually turn on their data encryption software, whatever it is. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is fatally flawed, but it does provide protection against casual hackers. Newer standards such as Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Protected Extensible Authentication Protocol (PEAP) are considered more secure, while a virtual private network (VPN) offers the ultimate protection against hack attacks.

  • Encourage employees to report security problems. A log-in glitch, compromised password, or lost network adapter (the card that allows computers to receive wireless signals) can open a gaping hole in your company’s Wi-Fi defenses.

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