Wireless technology has become more prevalent over the last two decades as technological capabilities have increased. These days it seems like simple wireless networks are in every home and business in the modern world. Additionally we have new developments in wireless technology to include 5G cellular networks, ZigBee, BlueTooth, Z-Wave, and Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs). These new developments allow for users to create dynamic mesh networks utilizing IoT devices and other applications.
Benefits of Wireless
Wireless internet technology offers many benefits for individuals, businesses and societies when compared to hardline options. The first of these benefits is that it is portable or offers the option for the device to be mobile while maintaining its connection. This is a highly beneficial quality of wireless as it removes inherent constraints involved with wired methods. This benefit allows for better workflow in a business environment, more flexibility in a home environment and less infrastructure costs for organizations.
The next benefit of wireless is its convenience which is intrinsically connected to its portability. When using a wired connection you will need to first identity what types of cables are needed and then the user will be bound by the length of the wire. With wireless the user can simply turn on their Wi-Fi and immediately connect to their network. As long as the network is configured properly users will be able to use their wireless connection effortlessly. One’s wireless network almost blends into the environment and is only brought to conscious awareness when it doesn’t function properly.
The third benefit of wireless technology is that it is more cost effective. If an individual wants to have internet access in every section of their house the same way they would with Wi-Fi they would need to purchase much more equipment to do so. Depending on the size of the space this would include dozens of cables, extenders and other items. If the user wanted to keep the cables from view then this would require construction costs to embed the cables into the walls or ceiling. These construction costs could add up especially if the job involved a large office building.
Disadvantages of Wireless
Although wireless technology has many benefits it also comes with a few disadvantages that we must understand. The first disadvantage of wireless technology is the security risks involved with transmitting data over the air. If the proper encryption methods are not used a hacker can easily intercept packets being transmitted on a wireless network. This can give the hacker access to sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, files, private messages and much more. When using a Wi-Fi network it is always important to understand the security risks involved and do the best to mitigate them.
Some of the more well known vulnerabilities and risks to wireless networks are Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), rogue access points, evil twins, unencrypted traffic, wireless jamming, default credentials, open networks and much more. In reality there are a considerable number of risks to Wi-Fi that are not present in wired connections. This is the primary disadvantage of using wireless networks. This should dissuade people from using them but good security practices need to be understood and implemented when wireless options are being considered.
Many wireless routers come equipped with WPS which has recently been shown to be quite vulnerable to brute force attacks. When a user sets up their internet connection with WPS they pair the router with the device. Usually this involves physical access to the device in order to press and hold a button as well as the 8 digit numeric pin or key for confirmation. At this point short numeric pins can be cracked with simple tools in a few hours or less. Additionally, WPS provides a few of the first digits in some cases which makes the cracking process that much easier.
Additionally, open networks are those that do not use encryption methods to secure the network traffic. If this is the case then all the packet captures can be recorded and analyzed by a hacking using simple network forensics tools such as WireShark. This would expose all of one’s sensitive information on the network which could easily be recorded and stolen by the attacker. This is a massive vulnerability that unfortunately too few people understand. Wireless networks should always use encryption even in the home. Hackers can easily use something known as war driving which is breaching the outer perimeter of the network remotely in order to gain access to the data being transmitted.
Another vulnerability when using wireless technology to access the internet is the attack technique known as an evil twin. This is when a threat actor creates wireless access point that mimics the same Service Set Identifier (SSID) broadcasted by the local network. This will cause a percentage of unsuspecting users to use the evil twin router. When this happens the attacker will then be able to see all of the network traffic of the devices on the network. This is why network settings on a device should be configured to only automatically connect to trusted networks.
While there are many benefits to using Wi-Fi and other wireless services as we can now see they come with many potential risks and vulnerabilities. Some people choose to use wired connections for internet access for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is security as it is much harder to manipulate a wired network. Wired networks are not as vulnerable to some of the attacks listed above as they often require the attacker to gain physical access to the router. This problem is easily solved through the use of physical security controls such as locked doors, security systems and surveillance cameras. This does not mean that wired connections are impossible to hack but it makes the job much harder for the attacker.
Another advantage of using wired connections is that the internet speed is usually much faster. The Mbps upload and download speeds of wired internet connections can be double or more the speed of the Wi-Fi network. For this reason many individuals and organizations choose to use them despite the inconvenience. Wired connections are good for those who use a large amount of data which is common in online gaming, video production and streaming services.
Both wired and wireless internet technologies have their place in society and can be advantageous or disadvantageous depending on the circumstances. There are instances where wireless technology would be an unnecessary security risk, for example in a sensitive government facility. However, using Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies may be perfectly fine to establish a home network or a wireless network within a business. As technology continues to advance we will need to understand the inherent risks and benefits that these technologies have. From this standpoint the educated user can determine what technologies they want to use and how they want to use them according to their needs and risk tolerance.