February 26, 2001, 8:57 AM — ASIDE FROM the obvious distinction of having no wires, wireless LANs or WLANs have the same physical attributes as traditional networks and require the same security considerations. Indeed, both LANs and WLANs face three potential security hazards each day: risks to physical system elements, interception from outside, and unauthorized access to protected network areas by internal users.
Although many may believe wireless systems are less secure than their wired counterparts (most IT professionals suffer nightmares of vulnerable data flying around the airwaves), WLANs actually provide unique security elements at the physical layer that make them less susceptible than traditional LANs to a variety of security risks.
Unplugging weak points
Administrators of wired networks know all too well how important it is to protect the physical wires of a network, lest an unauthorized individual gain access to sensitive company data. But by implementing one or more WLAN segments in your network, you reduce the number of wires in your systems, thereby providing fewer access points for intruders and also greatly decreasing the risk of physical security violations.
Because typical WLANs often use access points as interconnecting bridges to wired networks, companies with WLANs can more easily isolate individual users on a wireless segment from a majority of the LAN traffic, which minimizes the threat of packet sniffing.
Most IT managers are already aware of the issues surrounding proper user authentication and authorization levels in wired networks. Given today's interconnectedness, administrators must combine network OS parameters with firewall technologies, which often include packet filter or proxy services.