Wireless Network the Weakest Security Link in Enterprise IT Infrastructure

Date:   Monday , December 07, 2015

Wireless networks have now become fairly common across Indian organisations. From banks and financial institutions to manufacturers and educational institutes, more and more people access a variety of applications at the workplace. While this proliferation of wireless has brought about an unprecedented ease of Internet access and encouraged a flexible, more productive work culture, it is not without security risks. Be it fraudulent access, malware injection or data theft, organisations are struggling to keep their information assets protected.

According to a new global survey from Fortinet, Information Technology decision makers (ITDMs) believe wireless networks to be the most vulnerable element of their IT infrastructure. About 40 percent of respondents from India ranked wireless networks as most exposed from a security standpoint. What is even more telling is that all the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) polled from India-without exception-expressed \"insufficient wireless security\" as a concern.

As per the survey, as many as 55 percent of ITDMs in India consider loss of sensitive corporate and/or customer data the biggest risk of operating an unsecured wireless environment.

These survey findings and the reports of data breaches that keep surfacing every now and then signify the challenges for Indian enterprises in protecting their critical data and preventing unauthorised access to applications. An information security survey by PwC estimates that the average cost of a security incident for Indian companies has more than doubled from $194 in 2013 to $414 in 2014. As a consequence, it says, there has been a 20 percent increase in the average losses. Wireless networks are particularly being targeted by hackers and other cyber-criminals.

Why wireless is so vulnerable
The reasons for the increasing threats to wireless networks are obvious: one, compared to just a few years back, wireless networks now have much wider adoption among enterprises. According to a report by research firm IDC, the wireless LAN market in India grew by over 47 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 compared to the year-ago period, clocking $45 million in revenue. This proliferation has put wireless on the radar of hackers, who are constantly coming up with newer and more sophisticated methods to breach the networks and gain unauthorised access to corporate data.

Another reason why wireless networks are increasingly coming under attacks is the growing trend of BYOD-Bring Your Own Device-at the workplace. Employees routinely bring their own preferred mobile devices and laptops for work as well as personal use. This is thinning the boundaries between personal and official usage, making the management and security of the devices a relatively more complex and difficult task for the IT department.

Earlier, malicious code writers used to concentrate their efforts primarily on desktop computing platforms and operating systems. But as the adoption of mobile phones, especially smartphones running on Android, Apple\'s iOS and other software, grew exponentially over the past few years, so did the attention hackers paid to the mobile devices. It is a well-known observation in technology circles that with rising adoption of a platform come increasing security risks-and the wireless/mobile realm is no exception. Fortinet estimates suggest that as many as 1,300 new samples of malware appear every day on the Android platform alone. What is most alarming is that with mobiles touted to become the norm for making e-payments, the proposition of hacking mobile devices will become ever more attractive to cyber criminals.

What Indian Managers Should Do?
The heightened risks associated with wireless networks and mobile devices require IT managers across Indian enterprises to take preventive measures to safeguard their business-critical data. The first step towards wireless protection is to create a device footprint across the organisation with a view to securing them from malware.

Mobile devices typically get infected with malware through a malicious app that otherwise looks harmless. In many instances, the malicious aspect of the app becomes visible or active only when it reaches a certain number of users (so that the malware can inflict maximum damage). The way to counter that is to install real-time anti-malware technology that continually monitors and analyses websites and mobile applications for any malicious code or activity.

Attempts to secure the mobile devices through anti-malware, however, must be supplemented with a comprehensive and rigorous BYOD policy that clearly lists out the do\'s and don\'ts for employees, in addition to the measures that must be taken in case a device or set of devices are compromised.

Next, they should deploy a mechanism to authenticate the legitimate users of a wireless network. According to the Fortinet survey, 34 percent of the Indian ITDMs do not even have the most basic wireless security measure of authentication in place. This implies they are highly prone to unauthorised access and, consequently, to corporate espionage, data theft or other damaging security incidents.

Security-Centric Infrastructure
A key point to remember for IT managers who want to optimise the security of their wireless environment is to treat their network as a single, integrated entity, regardless of how users are connected to it-wired, wireless or remotely through the cloud. Such a unified security infrastructure is based on a common set of rules and policies that determine the level of access a user is granted. Since rules and policies are based on user needs rather than by their access method, it provides the three essential components of a security-centric infrastructure: unified access layer, integrated security and cost-effectiveness. By integrating these three components - along with real time visibility and comprehensive reporting - into your enterprise network, you\'ll be able to provide the tools your team needs to thrive in today\'s online workplace.

Unified Access Layer
Advanced technology now enables IT managers to provide all of these security services through a streamlined, appliance-driven infrastructure. Until recently, many of these functions were distributed over servers-without much thought to integration. But now, a new generation of secured gateways and security appliances are available that treat wired, wireless and the cloud as a single entity.

Integrated Security
With a single access layer in place, the focus is now on controlling who can access the network, regardless of how they connect. Integration enables you to maintain real time visibility and control over application traffic, even unknown applications from unknown sources.You can identify and control access on the various networks and endpoints regardless of location, device, port, protocol or IP address used.

Cost Effectiveness
The result: significantly reduced costs and management overheads while providing optimum security.

Hardened Wi-Fi is essential for using the internet or cloud to run your business. By including Wi-Fi and the cloud as integrated components of your network and securing them accordingly, you\'ll go a long way in providing a safe and secure environment for all of your users, regardless of location, application or device.With such an approach, the prospects of a fortified, wireless office environment indeed look bright.