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Updated: May 15, 2011 13:25 IST

Security threats to wireless networks

D. Murali
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Title: Mobile Computing, Theory and Practice. Author: Kumkum Gareg. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu Title: Mobile Computing, Theory and Practice. Author: Kumkum Gareg. Photo: Special Arrangement

First in the list of ‘security threats to wireless networks,’ as Kumkum Garg documents in ‘Mobile Computing: Theory and practice’ (www.pearsoned.co.in), is ‘accidental attack’ owing to frequent failure of devices and components. Next is passive attack, where the goal of the intruder is only to monitor or get information that is being transmitted. “Attacks may include releasing message content or traffic characteristics. Since no data are altered, passive attacks are difficult to detect,” the author explains.

In contrast, ‘active attack,’ involves modification of data or false data transmission, as in man-in-the-middle attack. Denial of service (DoS) is possible where there is either temporary prevention of communication facilities or disruption of the entire network, Garg cautions. “This is done by flooding it with a large number of messages to degrade the performance of the system.”

Other threats listed in the book include unauthorised usage (which can be prevented through proper user authentication techniques); heterogeneity (because mobile nodes need to adjust to potentially different physical communication protocols as they move to different locations); and resource depletion/ exhaustion (for example, techniques such as public key cryptography cannot be used during normal operations due to limited processing power and battery life).

War driving/ walking, featured last in the list, may remind some of the popular war game of the 1980s called war-dialling, a technique for searching phone numbers with modems attached to them. Observes Garg that, as wireless LANs gain popularity, hackers can find them by just taking a notebook computer or pocket PC fitted with a wireless card and some detection software such as netstumbler, kismet, and airsnort. Or, just a smartphone.

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