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Unsecure or Secure: The Network Security Challenge for Small and Mid-Size Businesses

- March 6, 2013 12:14 pm

I hope you all have had the chance to read my previous post in our small and mid-size business-focused blog series about challenges and benefits associated with integrating wireless technology into your small or mid-sized business, in order to grow business and increase operational efficiency. In this blog, I’d like to expand a little further on wireless security, the implications it has for SMBs and the role network security plays in the future of bring your own device (BYOD).

As more and more small and mid-size businesses decide to integrate wireless network connectivity into their business models, it will be critical that they find the proper method of securing this network in order to safeguard against cyber-attacks and hackers. Because of the flexibility and ability to connect-from-anywhere in the office, wireless networks are often more vulnerable to attacks. Threats to your wireless network can come from outside of the network, meaning hackers do not need to be physically connected (wired) to your network to access it. Left unsecured, wireless networks can be targets of “packet sniffing” and “war driving.”

Packet sniffing involves the act of capturing packets of data flowing across a computer network. War driving involves an unauthorized person hacking your company’s wireless network and gaining access to important information. These are both realistic problems your company could face if your network is open or not adequately secured. These threats can be especially devastating, as they can compromise your business’ ability to let employees freely share information internally across the network. A wireless security solution is absolutely critical.

In order to ensure the security of the wireless networks you have in-place, it’s important to understand the necessity of integrating business-grade access points instead of residential access points. Residential access points don’t provide adequate security and most do not support 802.1x authentication, but only a pre-shared key, making the network vulnerable to aforementioned packet sniffing and war driving. These residential-grade access points are unable to detect rogue (unauthorized) AP’s, or provide wireless intrusion prevention (WIPS), whereas business-grade access points are able to provide these increased security protocols as well as peace-of-mind for your everyone in your business. It’s extremely important for businesses to protect information communicated between APs and the network.

Keeping your business’ wireless network secure should be top priority and again, using outdated protocols for wireless security, like WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) should be avoided as best as possible. Today, small and mid-size businesses have access to newer, safer alternatives for network security, so it should never be an afterthought. Securities such as WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2 help safeguard against hackers and are providing necessary security precautions. Proper security measures, such as virtual private networks (VPNs) for remote access and the IEEE 802.1X standards-based Cisco Wireless Security Suite for WLANs, not only protect against security risks, but also reduce costs and enhance productivity of the network.

Wireless network integration has proven to be essential for the small and mid-size business market and continues to find its way into more and more businesses. By properly deploying wireless network security, your business will be enabled to keep networks safeguarded and will prevent the loss of important information crucial to the business, especially as more employees begin to bring their own devices to work and connect them to the wireless network.

In our next post, Gary will take a look at BYOD, the current interest level surrounding this subject and how companies are being forced to adapt their business models (and quickly) to accept this rising trend. We will discuss the necessary infrastructure that must be in place to support BYOD and the theme of mobile device management (MDM). Again, network security will surely remain a centerpiece for the BYOD conversation as companies begin putting a proper strategy in place and network capacity becomes an issue.

If you have any questions or thoughts concerning wireless or other technology challenges pertaining to small and mid-size business, please feel free to share them below or contact me directly via email at askrod@external.cisco.com. I always appreciate your feedback.

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