Wireless LANs bring newfound freedom, yet users may be putting corporate databases at risk

Businesses keep giving employees more and more wireless capabilities, but haven't freed their infrastructures from a wired network.

By Manufacturing Business Technology Staff August 13, 2007

Businesses keep giving employees more and more wireless capabilities, but haven’t freed their infrastructures from a wired network.

So says a new study out of Ontario-based Info-Tech Research Group , indicating that even in locations seemingly ideal for a fully wireless deployment—e.g., when developing or expanding office sites—a combination of wired local area networks (LAN) and wireless local area networks (WLAN) exists.

So it appears the wireless office is still a work-in-process.

“The limiting factor to going all-wireless is the current bandwidth capability of wireless LANs, which is inadequate to support business-critical applications,” explains Jennifer Colasanti, research consultant with Info-Tech. “One-third of WLAN users surveyed complain of application performance problems due to poor throughput. Even so, wireless connectivity does enable employees to work whenever and wherever they want, so employers see the value in augmenting their current networks with wireless capabilities.”

No shortage of reasons

For most companies, the decision to deploy WLANs is driven by employee satisfaction and productivity gains achieved from the flexibility of wireless systems. Familiarity and existing relationships rank as key motivators in vendor selection. The Info-Tech study, Deploying Wireless LANs for Business Benefit , confirms two-thirds of enterprises select the same vendor they relied on for their hard-wired network to set up their wireless network.

Features and functionality were secondary factors when selecting a WLAN vendor, and cost ranked third. As to when companies will be comfortable moving from a wired environment or wired-plus-wireless to an all-wireless configuration, Colasanti predicts changes to come based on increased wireless bandwidth capabilities.

“The introduction of 802.11n [a developing standard for WLANs expected next year] will address existing bandwidth concerns with 10 times the throughout of 802.11g for a total of 540 Mbps,” says Colasanti. “When vendor products enable that kind of bandwidth delivering high-quality applications, we’ll see the advent of completely wireless offices enabling all of the advantages of the wired world.”

Securing the perimeter

Advantages aside, the wireless environment is no more or less secure than the wireline environment, reports Scottsdale, Ariz.-based high-tech research firm In-Stat . Many users are concerned with security problems based on technology that has generally—although not universally—been replaced.

The implication for large corporate users is that many will have to assume corporate liability for wireless devices that access their computer systems—not just for billing, but to data systems. The greatest threats mostly fall within the control of end users—e.g., via lost equipment, and failing to change passwords and default settings. This exposes critical company data applications to unauthorized access.

Recent research by In-Stat found the following:

  • Smartphone users lose their devices 40 percent more often than mobile phone users.

  • Too many organizations allow users to decide what technology they will use for mobile data, regardless of security implications.

  • Carriers should differentiate their offerings through security training for their customers.

“[The survey indicates] the majority of end users overestimate the risk, misunderstand the security threats that do exist, and look for protection from sources that cannot help,” says Bill Hughes, In-Stat analyst. “Most are concerned about Electronic Serial Number [ESN] theft through ‘cloning’ of phone information, and the ability of stalkers to track their location. But carriers addressed these situations as far back as a decade ago.”

Mobile Security 2007: End Users Are Losing It , covers the state of mobile voice and data security. Visit https://www.in-stat.com