In today’s business world, the use of Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) continues to grow. As users perform more and more of their day-to-day responsibilities through wireless connections, a reliable, secure WLAN is mission critical for the modern mobile business. Although the implementation cost for robust WLANs continues to drop, the operational expenses for maintenance, security, and troubleshooting are on the rise.
Because WLANs use a license-free radio signal for connectivity, the operational challenges of keeping the network running issue-free are very different from supporting a traditional wired network. The following list details the key wireless performance issues that affect WLAN deployments:
• Coverage and Capacity – Because signal strength weakens as the distance from the transmitting device increases, many buildings experience coverage holes and fading signals. Poor connections or the inability to connect at all can be frustrating and negatively impact productivity. Bottlenecks in the system can affect throughput as Access Points (AP) are overloaded or specific users consume excessive network resources.
• Noise and Interference – Because many other devices, from microwave ovens to Bluetooth devices, use the same type of frequency as the WLAN radio signals, ambient thermal noise and interference can create intermittent problems that are hard to detect. Although equipment does exist to detect these issues, the price tag is usually cost prohibitive leaving many IT departments to guess about the actual source of their WLAN problems.
• Connectivity Problems – When a user reports they are having problems connecting to the network, the list of potential problems is long. On the user’s side, it could be user error, an incorrect security key, or a bad driver. The AP could be having hardware or configuration problems, or the gateway on the wired network could be having a problem.
• Roaming Issues – As a wireless client moves, or roams, it switches from one AP to the next. If the switch doesn’t go smoothly, the user may experience latency or jittery connections. Instead of using a laptop analyzer that makes troubleshooting a connection to a single AP easy, a distributed monitoring system is required to find roaming problems.
The same radio waves that make WLANs convenient and easy to implement create a way for hackers to attack the system. With the growth of identity theft rings, malware attacks, and other internet threats, it’s critical that businesses address the security issues relatd to WLAN use. There are three primary ways that hackers take advantage of WLANS:
• Denial of Service – The hacker floods the network with signals that impact the availability of resources.
• Spoofing – The hacker assumes the identity of a valid user to steal sensitive information. An attacker may even disguise their connection as an AP.
• Eavesdropping – Because WLANs radiate network traffic into the open air, it is possible to collect this information from a remote location. Hackers are sometimes able to intercept confidential data in this way. Because the information also reaches its original destination, unprotected businesses are often unaware that this has occurred until it is too late.
Every IT department should research the industry’s recommended best practices to manage and mitigate both the operational challenges and the security risks that come with WLANS. Some of these methods include:
• Use APs as network monitors. Within special AP firmware, promiscuous mode can be set so that specific APs serve as sensors to continuously monitor the network for performance issues and security violations. This allows network administrators to research wireless issues from anywhere with access to the WLAN.
• Take advantage of automated tools. Because WLAN use is increasingly prevalent, software development firms are developing new WLAN monitoring tools every day. Evaluate several to find the one that best fits your IT department’s needs to reduce the time needed to troubleshoot operational problems.
• Encrypt wireless traffic. By using protocols like Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or standards like 802.11i, data transmitted across the WLAN is encrypted. Unless the receiver has the correct encryption key, the information is useless.
• Change the default SSID. Because the Service Set Identifier (SSID) works as a password when devices make a connection to the WLAN, it must be changed regularly to maintain high security levels.
• Use Virtual Private Networks (VPN). A VPN provides a secure, encrypted connection to the WLAN from a remote location so that hackers can’t use intercepted information.
• Minimize WLAN radio waves in non-user areas. By restricting radio transmissions to the inside of the physical building as much as possible, hackers will be less likely to attack the system from the parking lot or street.
Anthony Ricigliano – Business News by Anthony J Ricigliano