Unplugged data can also be hack-proof

By Maggie Biggs, InfoWorld |  Networking

Most typical WLAN solutions come with support for 64-bit encryption. You can also usually obtain 128-bit encryption as an optional purchase with your WLAN. It should be noted that WLAN encryption only protects data; it is still possible for sniffers to pick up headers in the traffic, although the severity of resulting security breaches are significantly limited by data encryption.

Scrambling airborne data

Perhaps the biggest fear that network administrators have when it comes to implementing a WLAN is that security breaches will occur while network traffic is airborne.

Great news for the fearful: The design of a WLAN's physical layer protects network traffic by using spread-spectrum technology, a security measure introduced by the military some 50 years ago. WLAN solutions that implement spread-spectrum technology resist noise and interference while reducing the threat of unauthorized detection.

When data is transmitted using spread-spectrum technologies, the signal is sent out across a broad range of frequencies at very low power. Of the several ways to implement spread-spectrum technologies, the two most popular and supported methods are direct sequence and frequency hopping.

Direct-sequence spread spectrum combines the sent data signal with a higher bit sequence known as a chipping code or a processing gain. In this scenario, each time a data bit is transmitted, it is interspersed with a specific string of bits.

Frequency-hopping spread spectrum works much the way its name implies. Data is transmitted via a signal that hops from frequency to frequency over time. A hopping code determines which frequencies will be used and in what order.

Both types of spread spectrum enormously increase wireless network security, especially when combined with available encryption techniques.

Spread-spectrum technology requires users to have very specific knowledge to gain access to wireless network traffic, which decreases the possibility of unauthorized users or hackers gaining access to your systems. For instance, direct-sequence spread spectrum requires intruders to somehow acquire the chipping code for network entry, and frequency-hopping WLANs require acquisition of the hopping pattern. In both cases, intruders also need to acquire frequencies and modulation techniques as well as scrambling patterns to decode signals and gain full entry.

Although these encouraging attributes paint a bright picture for the growth of corporate WLANs, companies still need to keep a sharp eye on their networks' evolving security needs and act promptly when problems are suspected. Networking security advances are made daily, but intruders are simultaneously getting smarter, building tools to circumvent even the newest security methods.

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