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Tips for Deploying Wireless in Your Small Business

As a product manager in the security industry I have the opportunity to travel all over the world. On my trips it’s been very rare that I’ll find a location that does not provide some sort of wireless access. Even the most remote locations that may have a small coffee shop, eating establishment or small gathering area offer WiFi. Today it should be a no brainer for businesses of all kinds to provide wireless access to employees and maybe even extend this to their guests.

Most employees use mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. Looking at the latest laptop models online most, if not all, come standard with an 802.11ac wireless adapter and you would be hard pressed to find a smaller laptop that has a LAN network interface which does not require an additional dongle or add-on cable.

Now let’s look at what it will take to roll out a wireless deployment for a small business properly and securely.

To begin with, initiate a site survey for the building. This will help you figure out how many access points you will need to provide awesome wireless coverage throughout the structure. It will also enable you to determine whether there are any issues with walls, microwaves or anything else that may interfere with the wireless signal.

Next, decide if you want to provide guest access. If you do, you will need to understand the wireless security requirements you’ll need to enforce, such as setting up a virtual access point, enforcing the use of encryption or leaving the guest access open, but requiring authentication to a captive portal, similar to what airports may use before guests are able to access the internet.

For employee wireless security you can require standards-based WPA2 encryption and decide if you will use PSK or EAP which require an authentication server. For an additional level of security you can mandate the use of SSL VPN to access company resources over the wireless network.

With this new wireless network you will also need to take into consideration the security of the traffic going into and out of the wireless network for both employees and guests. This may include adding content/web filtering as a way to limit access to sites that could contain malware, and scanning all traffic through a deep packet inspection engine to look for potential intrusions and malware-based attacks that could impact employee or guest devices.

Additionally, you will want to enforce application-level bandwidth controls on the wireless network to ensure employees and guests don’t consume all the Internet bandwidth watching HD movies or downloading content.

Now that you’ve read through some of the basic requirements for deploying a wireless network, it might be a good time to get in contact with your local reseller or partner who can help with the planning, deployment and ongoing management of your wireless network.

Six Steps to Securing WiFi in a Small Business

In my job at SonicWall, I talk to a lot of people about IT security. One thing I hear a lot of the time from small business owners is something along the lines of “Why would anybody target me? I am just a small company. They would much rather go after big companies.” While this is very true for highly targeted attacks, where a highly motivated and funded attacker is going after a well-known entity, it is simply not true for the majority of attacks which are much more opportunistic in nature.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you own a local insurance agency in a retail complex. You rely heavily on your computer system to connect to the insurance company and share information about the policies that you need to write. In the business, we call that “private customer information” and it is what you need to protect. Now, let’s assume you have a broadband connection and a consultant who has helped install and maintain your network including the security component. So far, so good.

Next, you decide you would like to add WiFi to your network so you and clients can connect more easily. You decide to go down to the local box store and purchase an off the shelf consumer class wireless access point and connect it to an open port in your office. You skip quickly through the startup menu choosing “quick start” and are up and running in a few minutes. Great, right? Not so fast. Most likely some of the steps you skipped over had to do with securing the wireless traffic, but that is difficult and requires some thought so you decided to do it later, which never happened.

At this point, you have a very secure wired network and an unsecured wireless network. Now, next door is a fast food restaurant with a lot of teenage kids who rotate in and out based on the season. One of them happens to be a wanna-be hacker, who notices a wide open wireless network and decides to investigate. She finds that she can connect to the wireless network and not only get wireless access, but also see the files on your computer, because you allow file sharing! And worse, she can see the private customer information that is so important to not only your local agency but also the nationwide company. And in a fit of teenage rebellion or altruism, she decides to download the customer data and then sends it to the nationwide agency to show them that one of their agents is not being responsible with their customer’s data. That is known as white hat hacking, and she is actually doing your insurance company a favor. Imagine if a neighbor with less noble intentions had been able to extract the data.

This is just an example, illustrating why wireless security is so important. Here are some tips to help you keep this fictional scenario from becoming a reality.

  1. Utilize a firewall with integrated wireless security that simplifies the implementation of wireless network security.
  2. Leverage deep packet inspection on the firewall to scan all traffic to and from the wireless users’ computers for viruses, malware and intrusions that may have been brought in from the outside.
  3. Since many websites are now leveraging SSL encryption to protect user data, make sure that your wireless network security solution can decrypt and scan encrypted traffic.
  4. Look for wireless network security solutions with wireless intrusion detection and prevention to block rogue access points and minimize the disruption from denial of service attacks.
  5. Apply application control to block unauthorized applications from being used on the wireless network.
  6. Set up a secure wireless guest network with encryption for your guests if you want to allow your customers to use WiFi in the lobby or conference rooms.

This is just one hypothetical example of what can happen if you don’t take security seriously. To learn more about wireless security, here is a quick and easy infographic with more information on this important topic.

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