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Prevent Company Laptops from Leaking Data Over WiFi

WiFi image courtesy jem [cc, 2.0]One stat may inspire you to provide a list of Best Practices to employees who may work over public WiFi hotspots (including airports, restaurants, or cafes). AirDefense found that 1 in 4 public hotspots are unencrypted and vulnerable to attack. Any data sent over the airwaves on such networks could end up in the wrong hands. The fact become painfully obvious to Lowe's when, in 2003, three men pleaded guilty to hacking into the wireless network of the retailer, sniffing customer data from the Lowe's parking lot with their laptops. Total cost to Lowe's for the security breach: $2.5 million.

So, without further adieu, here are the top five steps to prevent wireless hackers from accessing your data and proprietary info:

  1. Make intrusion detection a priority. There are a number of tools and patches available for your wireless network to do this, including the open source Snort (www.snort.org) to Windows' intrusion-detection software. Though intrusion detection may not provide a wall to breaches, it will alert you of any breaches before they become a problem.
  2. Set up a comprehensive security policy document with best practices for your company. Scott Barman's "Writing Information Security Policies" is an excellent start to developing your own. Ensure that all employees are aware of steps and precautions to prevent breaches while traveling or on outside WiFi access points.
  3. Arrange for a corporate VPN (virtual proxy network) to which employees can connect while in public hot spots. These provide a secure, encrypted tunnel for access to sensitive company data and records.
  4. Consider encouraging paid WiFi spots over free hotspots. This is primarily because paid service requires WEP or WPA authentication and login, which drastically reduce criminal sniffers from gaining access to a WiFi user's computer.
  5. Turn off the wireless card while not in use.

Of course, these are only a few measures, but it's a great start. For a more comprehensive list, take a look at AirDefense's recommendations.

WiFi image courtesy jem [cc, 2.0]

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