Because of the very nature of wireless communications – that they occur in the open air and can be easily intercepted – Wi-Fi networks are more vulnerable to security problems than wired forms of networking. Hackers or intruders don’t need physical access to your hardware to disrupt operations. Anyone within radio range can theoretically tap into your wireless network and steal confidential data. This means that intruders may be sitting in your parking lot or in the apartment complex across the street.
Anyone who uses a wireless network should understand the potential risks:
Freely available tools allow anyone to pinpoint insecure networks. Intruders inside your network may corrupt your data, consume network bandwidth, reduce network performance, launch viruses and attacks that prevent authorized users from accessing the network, or even attack other networks.
Exploiting wireless networks is one of the many ways hackers can gain access to your personal information and commit identity theft. In 2004, 9.3 million Americans — or one in every 23 adults — were victims of the crime, according to the Better Business Bureau and Javelin Strategy and Research. A survey by the Federal Trade Commission estimates that identity theft crimes tallied $52.6 billion in costs in 2004.
While there are security features built into wireless networking products, most manufacturers turn them off by default because it makes the networks easier to set up. This effort to make wireless networking more user-friendly has rendered most equipment completely insecure from the moment it comes out of the box.
Part of the problem is that most software and service providers responsible for installing wireless equipment have no incentive to advise users of the risks. That is why Westchester County is encouraging both residents and businesses to take a proactive stance in safeguarding their networks from possible intruders.