Is going all wireless a huge mistake ?

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Two weeks ago, a serious security issue was discovered with Bluetooth cellphones : a weakness in the pairing and authentication systems used by some of these devices potentially allows malicious users to remotely steal a user's address book without his knowledge... Scary, uh ?

Unfortunately, such issues are not limited to the Bluetooth world : everyone knows how insecure WEP is -- especially considering that software is now available that allows any reasonably skilled user to crack a key in a few clicks...

Luckily for us, computer geeks, such issues are quite easy to deal with : you simply pick your phone carefully, pay attention to the services you turn on and buy access points from security-conscious vendors like Apple that now allows even older computers to rely on the more secure WPA with the same ease of use. Simple !

Well, it may seem like it is : after all, such problems do not get lots of press coverage and people who do not pay attention to the computing news -- most users in fact -- are likely never to hear about them.

However, when you begin to think about it, this situation becomes scary ! Now that some large companies have begun handing out poor quality wireless products to their employees like promotional pens, even the slightest exploit can have some catastrophic consequences... Nowadays, any employee carries some mildly confidential information with him : internal phone numbers, e-mail addresses -- all kinds of clues that can be used as a basis for some very effective social engineering. At the same time, they are surrounded by HotSpots, strange e-mail services that involve a laptop, a Bluetooth cell phone and a data subscription or wireless headsets...

There is no need to be a security expert to see all the potential issues that this wireless frenzy raises... In fact, the damage is already done and many big corporations have taken back their wireless gizmos after having suffered from data losses and information leaks !

Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to point fingers here : no technology is inherently secure and even the best products sometimes experience security issues. In fact, l am convinced that most of these wireless technologies are great and that they truly are the future of networking -- just look at how WiFi has inspired businesses, educators and artists worldwide...

However, I am afraid that, by putting such powerful, and therefore potentially dangerous, technologies in the hands of new users without as much as a word of warning, we may be ruining their magical appeal and the trust people will be willing to put in them for the years to come.

Early adoption sure is a key component in the success of technologies and in no way am I implying that we should restrict their availability -- I am a firm believer in openness. However, for now, I think that we should put an emphasis on training and accept that, as great as wireless technologies are, they are not suited for every use.

After all, the future of networking is at stake here ! Only by proceeding carefully can we successfully build the next generation networking protocols...

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different !

And you, how do you secure your wireless communications ?


2004-03-01 07:50:34
get off the bandwagon
when did tech press decide that the best articles to write are the "naysaying" ones -- what happened to optimism and talking about the wonders of technology?

yes, there are security flaws with all technologies -- but in almost every case the offline equivalents are still easier and more problematic.


2004-03-01 08:05:34
Thank you for your feedback
Hi !

First of all, thank you for taking the time to send me your feedback, I really do appreciate it !

I am afraid that you may have read this blog somewhat too quickly. Indeed, I actually think that wireless technologies are great and are the future of networking...

Again, thanks for your feedback !


2005-06-23 09:12:09
Wireless security
I am one of the totally inexperienced newbies that is wanting to go wireless with a home laptop. I too love Macs and have used them for 15 years in my business. However, software that is necessary to my business only runs on Windows so I have purchased a Dell laptop. I want to use a wireless internet connection at home. How secure will this be?