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Safety first: The four-point guide to ensuring data security in a wireless world

April 25, 2017

Safety first: The four-point guide to en...

By Rajiv Bhalla, Managing Director, Barco Electronic Systems

What if we said the world is no longer going digital?

You will laugh and scoff, before proceeding to talk about various things such as internet penetration, smartphone adoption, and the ever-increasing interconnectivity. How can the world not be going digital in the face of such overwhelming evidence, you’ll ask?Perhaps, you’ll even point us to the statistics to get an idea of just how ingrained technology today is.

There are anywhere between 6.4 billion to 17.6 billion interconnected devices estimated to be in use at present. Thenumber of smartphone users is expected to be around 2.34 billion at present, while more than 3.6 billion individuals of the estimated 7 billion calling the planet home are connected to the internet. All these numbersare growingwith every passing second, and therein isthe answer – the world isn’t going digital; because it already has!

Most of this all-pervasive access to the digital sphere has been enabled by wireless connectivity. But while this opens up a plethora of opportunities for individuals across geographical and socioeconomic boundaries, it also increases the threat to data and user privacy; organisations and individuals with malicious intentions are always on the lookout to identify and exploit security vulnerabilities in the wireless connectivity landscape. This is especially worrying for end-users who have their professional, personal, and social functioning dependent heavily on digital connectivity. With forgoing Wi-Fi connectivity not even an option worth considering, here are a couple of essential tips which you can implement in order to make your wireless connectivity more robust and secure:

Customisation of admin passwords, SSID, and encryption

Most wireless networks come equipped with a default login ID and password from the manufacturer. Despite the fact that these administrator passwords are generic and easy-to-guess, a majority of individuals and organisations using wireless devices don’t change them. This makes it easy for cybercriminals to break into the Wi-Fi network and steal all the data that flows to and from the network. Changing it to a secure, personalised, and complex password can significantly lower the chances of compromise of the network’s integrity.

Another customisation that wireless users must neverfail to do is that of Service Set Identifier, or SSID, which – like the administrator password – is set generically by the manufacturer. Default SSIDs are almost an invitation for an attack on the network, as cybercriminals typically take it as the marker of a poorly configured network. Moreover, it is a healthy practice to turn on strong network encryptions, such as WPA and WPA2, in order to scramble the data traffic originating from the wireless network.

Updating firmware regularly and using firewall/security

The necessity of keeping any firmware up to date cannot be stressed enough. Regular updatesnot only allow you to accesslatest feature rollouts from the service provider, but also ensure that newest fixes and patches are integrated on the user-facing interface. It is also imperative to turn on the built-in network firewall that most wireless routers come equipped with. Another additional layer of data security can be added installing all connected devices with HTTPS plug-ins and antivirus software with the latest virus definition. All these measures serve to significantly reduce the threat risk to the network.

Turning off: network, sharing, SSID broadcast, and auto-connect

Whether it is at home or at office, there will be times when the wireless network will not be in use for an extended duration of time. Experts recommend physically turning off the network in such cases as an ultimate defensive measure; it is impossible for any malicious entity to gain access to your wireless network when it is shut down. SSID broadcast of wireless networks, which allows clients to seek a connection with the network, is another feature that is recommended to be turned off. It is advisable, instead, to activate a separate guest network to cater to infrequent users in order to limit the opportunity available to hackers.Care must also be taken to disable network sharing while connecting to public Wi-Fi networks to minimise the chance of a security breach, while auto-connecting to an open Wi-Fi network must be avoided altogether.

Turning on: MAC address filtering and WPA protection for guest networks

The Media Access Control (MAC) address typically serves as a unique identifier for every wireless device connected to the network.Activating MAC address filtering allows network owners to enable Wi-Fi access to a predefined set of devices, adding another security layer to the wireless network.Another way of ensuring better security for all users, be it regular users or network guests, is to provide a separate WPA-protected Wi-Fi network to infrequent users. This allows greater control over the network usage and prevents unauthorised devices from eavesdropping on the data traffic.


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