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The impact of smartphones and tablets on enterprise wireless networks
Author/Blog Contributor - Chia-Chee Kuan, CTO at AirMagnet
Date: May 24, 2011

Smart devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) are proliferating and entering the enterprise work place at a staggering rate. According to a Barclays Capital CIO Survey 2011, the adoption medium is already very high for tablets, with 32+% of organizations already supporting their use, and 35+% currently testing or in trials. The functional differences between conventional PCs and smart devices, like tablets, is getting smaller too. Data suggests that these devices will replace 45% of notebooks and 12% of desktop PCs. Because of these smart devices advances, the wireless LAN (WLAN) rose to become the #1 priority for enterprise networking in 2011 (from #2 in 2010).

This shift is not surprising. Wi-Fi is an off-load option to cellular carriers and customers. When possible in the work environment, many users piggyback onto the corporate network with their devices. With 3G and 4G data usage and device adoption exploding (along with the cost), the data suggests the corporate WLAN will continue to be flooded by new devices and heavy bandwidth consumption. According to Cisco Visual Networking, 55-70% of all indoor mobile data traffic happens over an indoor wireless network. Enterprise Wi-Fi and the WLAN is quickly becoming THE access option for mobile users. It not only offers higher bandwidth, but also delivers it at a lower cost and can fill in the voids where 3G/4G might not be available. With the capability gap closing quickly between smartphones and tablets, users may be less inclined to use their laptops and PCs (especially if their job requires them to be highly mobile).

With all these smart devices hitting the enterprise, what impact does it have to the Wi-Fi network? The most obvious is the increase in bandwidth demands and a need to expand the WLAN to include more coverage area. However, it also creates a management nightmare with client devices blurring the lines between rogue device or legitimate communication tool. These lines can be further blurred with tethering and rogue access points. Furthermore, new Wi-Fi attack tools specifically designed to work with smartphones and tablets pose further risk (and they're being published online). It's not unusual to see someone in your building walking around with a smartphone or tablet. And that's the problem, that same inconspicuous person could be attempting to execute an attack on the network. A good example of this type of security flaw is the recent Android vulnerability, which leaves the majority of Android smartphone users (running Eclair, FroYo and older Android versions) susceptible to a type of attack called Sidejacking when connected over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

While the dramatic increase in smart devices certainly complicates the security, performance and ongoing management of a WLAN, a robust wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS) can help monitor and manage the wireless airwaves (hyperlink to AME webpage). These types of centralized systems proactively protect Wi-Fi networks and users from all types of threats, even those unintentionally brought to work on a smartphone or tablet. As these new devices come to market, don't ignore their impact. Embrace the potential they offer the enterprise, and proactively work to secure and manage them so they become less of a risk and more of an asset.

 
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I have included the training required to use Airmagnet Express in a WiFi course that I have developed for Heald College. I am currently developing a new course to educate Heald students to implement defensive countermeasure against attacks on computer systems. I appreciate it if you can email me a list of products to defend against WiFi attacks.
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I saw no freshing part in this article. When the author pay a lot effort in describing the threat posed to smart phone and tablets, I think you'd better explain what's the difference between tablet or smart phone wifi adaptor and laptop wifi adaptor.
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Blog Contributor

Chia-Chee Kuan is CTO and co-founder of AirMagnet. Chia-Chee will contribute his expertise on technology, security vulnerabilities, and future trends in the WLAN industry.

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