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Security 101: Protecting Wi-Fi Networks Against Hacking and Eavesdropping
May 9, 2022
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Setting up small business networks is relatively simple and rudimentary. However, this could also mean that users may choose to set up their devices heedlessly and consequently risk their data to unsecured networks.

It has been known that there are existing vulnerabilities in Wi-Fi security protocols and hardware components that are introduced by manufacturers.

The default configuration of connected devices, factory default passwords, and weak encryption are also among the most notorious factors that have contributed to attacks not only to the ecosystem of the internet of things (IoT) but also to networks in general. Every device exposed to the internet could be a possible entry point for attackers. For example, if a surveillance camera doesn’t have encrypted traffic while it’s connected to a Wi-Fi network, an attacker can snoop on the footage in a given environment.

Why is Wi-Fi hacking still a preferred cybercriminal method?

Wireless networks can be seen as inherently insecure, potentially inviting unauthorized access by strangers who could pry into transmitted data. An attacker can just pretend to sit and wait in a lobby, enjoy his coffee, while away his time, or just use his phone while standing nearby. Footage check of security feeds would not help as the activity would look like normal browsing or the device could be hidden in a bag or otherwise obscured during the whole attack.

The motivations of attackers may vary. Either they may be interested in breaking into corporate networks to sniff data or they aim to hijack vulnerable routers and other networked devices to turn these into parts of botnets. From there, attackers can launch further attacks, perhaps the most notorious of which are distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks. Cryptocurrency mining and malware infection for command and control are a couple of the other ways criminals can turn their attention to malicious activity.

All of these aforementioned attacks can be done without the knowledge, let alone the consent, of the owners of the devices and the networks. Some attackers even go as far as removing traces of their activity to make post-infection forensics even more difficult.

How can wireless networks be protected against compromise?

While it may be considered a dated cybercriminal method, Wi-Fi network hacking remains a threat to users' and businesses’ data and privacy as poor security practices are still employed. Users and businesses can prevent attackers from exploiting vulnerabilities in wireless connections by being aware of the aforementioned security considerations and adopting best practices.

Users can minimize the risk of attacks in their networks by:

  • Changing default Wi-Fi network names (SSIDs) and passwords, especially for bundled routers provided by service providers, to complex credentials to deter unauthorized access.
  • Updating the firmware of Wi-Fi-enabled devices, routers, and other hardware as soon as updates are available, and considering switching to Ethernet or wired connections until patches are rolled out.
  • Enabling the firewall for added security in devices, or using a virtual private network (VPN), especially when remotely accessing assets.

For businesses, the crucial mitigation is for the IT department to have stringent policies in place, such as:

  • Raising company awareness on the risks related to insecure connections and the use of wireless networks at work as well as at home.
  • Employing network monitoring to oversee connected devices and web traffic.
  • Regularly reviewing device logs and monitoring results for any suspicious activity. This process can be automated.
  • Using authentication tools, such as two-factor authentication, for all users connecting to the wireless networks other than inputting a password. An authentication method that will allow network administrators to immediately track and block entry points to the network in real-time should help in case of a security incident.

Another good countermeasure is to limit the signal strengths of Wi-Fi routers. Mobile devices and laptops do not have high-gain antennas, so there is no need for long-range signals. In this case, if a user is outside the office, the Wi-Fi network is practically inaccessible. Attackers may still use high-gain antennas, however, to hit the network from a considerable distance; after all, successful infiltration of wireless networks happens only if the attackers are within range.

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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