The Unique Challenges of Keeping WLANs Secure in Manufacturing
Author/Blog Contributor - Jesse Frankel, Wireless Intrusion Research Team
Date: August 02, 2010
Wireless LANs have been used in manufacturing environments for some time now, as industry-specific mobile application devices can greatly increase productivity and efficiencies for these businesses. However, these facilities face a unique challenge because they often use a wide variety and number of mobile devices. They also frequently use a large number of older, sometimes outdated, devices on a day-to-day basis throughout their network and work environment. Unfortunately, many of these devices have either very limited or no network security capabilities at all, creating constant headaches for the wireless network manager.
While many of today's newer mobile devices are able to support modern security mechanisms like 802.11i (which utilize strong encryption and robust authentication components), older devices are largely limited to the original WEP mechanism, which has been shown to be cryptographically weak, and is not a sufficient approach for protecting the potentially sensitive data transmitted throughout a manufacturing network.
This mix of legacy with new devices within the manufacturing environment can pose a serious security risk for the organization. Managers have to deal with new tools and devices that often leverage the latest built-in security capabilities, yet monitor and integrate older tools that possibly create gaping holes in the security infrastructure of a facility. It can turn into a wireless circus act. Because of this, it's important that manufacturing facilities are able to monitor the entire wireless network and protect against both inside and outside threats, with a full-time, end-to-end WLAN security monitoring system.
Unfortunately, the manufacturing sector (like many other sectors) is plagued by the notion, "Isn't the security we have good enough?" Many of these businesses are led to believe that the security capabilities built into the latest mobile or network devices offer "good enough security," but they don't realize just how untrue that statement is until it's too late. The mix of legacy infrastructure and devices in manufacturing environments leave these organizations in a precarious security position. These older, unsecured devices and components can provide the loophole hackers or other criminals need to exploit a network. The only way to protect the wireless network is by continuously (24x7) monitoring and protecting of all your wireless assets with a WIPS/WIDS solution.
What's your take on WLAN challenges facing manufacturing facilities?
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