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Stolen signals Featured

6:43am EDT April 24, 2002

Wireless computer networks have grown increasingly popular for their ease of use and convenience. You can use the network anywhere in the office without having to be plugged into a wall jack, and offices can be configured without being anchored to where the network plugs are located.

These conveniences are also a danger if not configured properly, because they pose a serious security breach.

After reading about flaws in wireless network security, Dana Arvidson, president and owner of Beachwood-based Axis Development, decided to run an experiment. With a laptop and a $200 antenna, Arvidson surveyed the airwaves to see what he could find.

The results are staggering.

In 72 hours, he picked up signals from 450 wireless networks -- many small home systems, others from large companies. Of those, only 70 had even bothered to turn on the standard encryption that comes with the equipment.

"The encryption is easy to break," says Arvidson. "It would take a hacker 20 minutes of receiving information to crack the code."

The security breach, with the right equipment, can be done from a quarter mile away and is almost impossible to trace, unlike someone who is trying to hack into your network from a traditional wired account.

"There was a line and a connection between you and them," says Arvidson. "You could do some research and find out who they were, catch them and prosecute. With wireless, not only can they do it, you may never notice. In general, the access points for wireless are set up inside the security."

The other problem is that employee will often buy their own wireless network card so they can use their computers anywhere in the office, so the IT staff doesn't even realize they are vulnerable.

As a result, SecurNet was formed. SecurNet is a joint venture between Axis Development and Beachwood-based marketing firm Arnold & Co. Communications. SecurNet will audit your network to see if your company is vulnerable, and then make recommendations on how to protect it.

"Encryption can be broken, and while a network is never 100 percent secure, we have ways to take any wireless network and make it so it is undetectable," says Arvidson.

Axis Development