Wireless Networking and Security – Part 2

In “Wireless Networking and Security – Part 1, I discussed some general mechanical and functional considerations when developing or extending a wireless network. In this edition, we will be examining common wireless security vulnerabilities, data encryption for secure connectivity, network segregation and guest access.

The world is rapidly changing and so is technology. Many businesses offer “free” or “open” WiFi for their guests and in many cases for their employees. Did you know that this may also invite a host of unforeseen issues, some potentially legal, as well? Providing an “OPEN” wireless connection to any level of the public is ALWAYS a security risk as security is based on layers. Removing any one layer of security can pose many potential dangers:

• First it allows anyone with malicious intent and a wireless device the potential to see or sniff all of your network transactions. This means any clear text or unencrypted passwords (ex: Password01, etc), user names, emails, and sites visited (including your banking addresses) could potentially become public.

• Second it gives outsiders access into your networking system beyond your router’s firewall. This kind of direct access is NOT possible with a wired connection from the Internet without special configuration. Any minor flaw in your network’s security can then let in hackers. There have been some cases where hackers have taken over the router, re-configured it and kept the owner out.

• Worst of all, a local criminal could send thousands of money scams, solicit pornographic emails or downloads, or threatening email messages from your network’s IP Address. This will certainly trace back to your Internet connection, and it is your door the police will visit and your equipment they will investigate. I have personally known of and worked with actual cases of this subject matter. The police will do this regardless of whether they believe your innocence or not as it is part of their process of collecting evidence to support their case.

So now that we have some of the scary stuff out on the table, how can we protect our businesses, employees, and our guests? The best solutions for this involve combinations of wireless encryption, wireless isolation, and network segregation.

There are many methods of wireless access and encryption. The industry standard at the time of this writing is called WPA2-PSK with AES. This string of acronyms stands for “WiFi Protected Access version 2 using a Pre-Shared Key and the Advanced Encryption Standard”. WPA2 allows for a strong shared key up to 63 ASCII characters which equals 256 bits. This pre-shared key is periodically verified from the Wireless Access Point to the client device. AES offers encryption in three different key lengths 128, 192, and 256 bits. The key length is proportionate to the character length of the Wireless Key. The longer and more non-dictionary the key is, the better the device can provide strong encryption. A shared key length of 12 to 16 characters is recommended. As always, be very careful distributing wireless access keys.
A wireless network that has incorporated a “Company LAN Network” and a “Guest” network should always use wireless isolation. Wireless isolation creates a barrier between multiple wireless devices so that devices cannot “see” each other even though they are on the same wireless network. This is a good method of security by obscurity. In addition, business networks that also have a Guest wireless network should also use network segregation. This is done by using managed switches and creating Virtual Local Area Networks or VLANs. By default, traffic from one VLAN cannot see traffic from another unless implicitly allowed, yet each VLAN can share the same access to the Internet.

There are many benefits such as expandability, mobility, and productivity when investing in a wireless network. Security should never be taken for granted or ignored and should definitely be reviewed periodically. The key to having a stable and secure wireless network is to consider the current and future needs of the business and discuss it with a qualified professional. The Network Engineers at The Computer Center would be happy to meet with you to discuss your business’s needs… now and in the future.

by Michael Arnold, Senior Engineer

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Can I Still Purchase Microsoft Office 2010?

I’ve gotten quite a few requests from our clients for purchasing Microsoft Office 2010, versus the newer Microsoft Office 2013 or Microsoft Office 365 recently. I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that yes, you CAN still purchase and run Office 2010, but Microsoft sure doesn’t make it easy on your pockets!

How Can I Still Purchase Microsoft Office 2010?

Like I stated above, it is still possible to install and run Office 2010 on your PC’s, under the following conditions:

*You can run 2010 on your PC’s if you purchase an Open Office 2013 license that includes the downgrade rights to run Office 2010. You would be able to switch over to use Office 2013 at a later date, whenever you are ready. You can also move these licenses from PC to PC. These licenses cost $369.99 apiece.

BUT…

*Microsoft makes the customer purchase (5) Open licenses – ANY Microsoft Open license would count – initially, then you could purchase just one license at a time moving on. Microsoft allows the customer to tie additional licenses to any Open Microsoft license purchased for a limited amount of time after the initial purchase. In most cases I’ve seen, this is usually a year and a half to two years after the initial purchase. The initial purchase of the (5) Open Microsoft licenses is what I was referring to about Microsoft making it hard on your pockets!

Is it Worth It?

That’s up to you. Can you use (5) Open Microsoft licenses now, or would use in the future? You can hold onto Open licenses and install them at a later date, but the expiration date for adding one or two Open licenses later would not change. Are the software programs you use for your business compatible with Office 2013 yet? If they are, it would probably make more sense for you to make the transition to Office 2013 in the near future, instead of holding onto Office 2010. Office 2013 OEM licenses (OEM means that the license is tied to the PC that it is initially installed on) cost $209.99 at this time. You can purchase one of these licenses at a time. Microsoft will most likely make it even more difficult to purchase Office 2010 as time goes on, or possibly not allow the program to be purchased at all!

by Alison Ruston, Sales & Marketing

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Taking Control of Malware

Back in 1992, I found myself secretly excited to find that our company computer had the Michelangelo virus, and was curious as to the turmoil that would ensue once it awoke from michelangeloits dormant state on March 6, which is the birthday of the famed renaissance artist. The virus was spread via infected floppy disks, and would propagate when a user mistakenly booted their PC with a floppy in the drive. Once the PC was infected, it would infect any floppy disk inserted into the PC. Being that this was in the age of “sneaker net”, this was how users commonly shared files between PCs. “Darlene, can you print the WordPerfect file that is on this disk?” Bam. Infected! The virus was also unknowingly distributed by some major software and computer manufacturers such an Intel, who didn’t realize the virus lay hidden on their floppy disks and hard drives. The irony is that Intel also had its own antivirus product.

While you may read many articles on how to protect yourself against viruses, which virus protection software is best, etc., it is my belief that the most effective prevention lie in your fingertips – You!

Malware Sources

Programs

At times I need a utility to perform some function like convert a file from one type to another, which often takes more time to locate then to complete the task. It’s best to start your search as reliable sites such as download.com and majorgeeks.com, as well as many others.

reliablesearchA search of “reliable software download sites” on Google led to several articles with reviews of various sources.

Also, while the file itself may not contain an infection, it may contain other piggy-backed programs designed to track your where-abouts on the ‘net and deliver advertising in the form of pop-ups, or install toolbars that hijack your web searches.

While installing software, pay attention to the wording at each step of the install. Most will give you an option to omit the install of the extra software, and will also cunningly phrase questions that trick you into allowing the additional programs. You can also check your “Programs and Features” in the Control panel and sort by “Installed On” to see what may be new and unknown. (The ability to see when programs have been installed on XP doesn’t exist.)

Cracked Software

Surely there is a reason someone offers a costly program for free, right? Do you really need that software, or can you find a more cost-effective alternative that will give you most of what you want? With many software manufacturers like Microsoft and Adobe offering monthly subscriptions to software that is otherwise out of many people’s budgets, there are more reasons to go legitimate.
And if you are installing unlicensed software at your office, be prepared to explain its existence to the BSA and face possible fines. The practice of software audits at companies has become much more common, as the BSA offers rewards for a report that results in an investigation that leads to a monetary settlement. I witnessed one company ordered to relinquish nearly a dozen PCs with unlicensed copies of Windows and have them destroyed, or otherwise face massive fines.
More reading on the BSA: http://www.bsa.org/anti-piracy

Email attachments

This is one of the most common sources of virus infections, arriving in a legitimate-looking email from a delivery company, friend, or law-firm announcing that you are going to be infectedemailsued. (Finding you are going to be sued really brings you down from the rush after the previous email announcing you have inherited 1 billion dollars from some unknown relative in Russia.) These types of emails contain attachments that lure the unknowing recipient into reading its contents.

Ring ring.. “Computer Center? My computer says it has a virus. I was just checking to see why my UPS delivery was delayed, HELP!”

If it’s questionable, ask your friend if they sent the email, or forward it on to your IT support people.

Further reading:
Snopes.com—about the Package Delivery Virus: http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/ups.asp
UPS.com—examples of fraudulent emails: http://www.ups.com/media/en/fraud_email_examples.pdf

Social-networking

You have a friend who posts pictures of their family on Facebook, and one day posts a link to “You gotta see this!” Beware – their account may have been hacked, or they did the same thing you are about to do, which was click on a malicious link that someone else unknowingly posted.

facebookBe careful with what you allow access to your Facebook account, and occasionally check your App Settings to see what you have granted access to and who can see it. These settings are found under Settings | Apps. You can edit the privacy for each app, or turn off the feature all together.
Additional tips: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150162049491602

Malware Prevention

No software or hardware solution can completely protect your computer against infection, which is why your best action is recognizing common sources. However, as “security holes” in your browser or operating system are often found by their manufacturers after the creators of the malicious software took advantage of the vulnerability, you should protect your PC with current and reliable antivirus software.

There are many different antivirus software products available, for businesses we recommend a centrally-managed solution that gives

happymalwareyour IT person a single console in which they can see the status of each PC on the network. This prevents the issue with expired software, outdated virus definitions, unreported malware infections, and assists in clean-up should your PC become infected.

Hardware solutions like Barracuda, which acts as a web and email filter, can block access to malicious websites and infected email attachments.

Keep your desktop and server operating system up-to-date with security patches, service packs, and individual program updates. While your PC or server may automatically install updates, there are updates that need to be manually installed as well. The Computer Center can supply a free technology assessment to determine what issues should be addressed.

In Conclusion…

If you unsure about the legitimacy of an email, whether software you are trying to install is safe, or if your network is properly protected, please call our support people at The Computer Center. Fifteen minutes of time can save your company thousands of dollars in support costs to repair damage from a malware infection.

by Michelle Widell, Senior Engineer

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Contact Information

The Computer Center
1 Parker Place Suite 655
Janesville, WI 53545
(608) 755-1524
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sales@computer-center.com
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
--Albert Einstein

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