Wi-Fi interceptor targets unauthorised hotspots – but use it with care

US hotel chain Marriott may have copped a hefty fine for blocking Wi-Fi hotspots at its hotels, but the practice is set to become more common with the emergence of new solutions enabling other companies to do the same thing.

An update to Fluke Networks' AirMagnet Enterprise wireless intrusion detection system has strengthened its ability to scan for and detect signals across 245 Wi-Fi bands, including 44 standard bands and 201 that are less frequently used.

This approach is designed to improve security by blocking potentially dangerous ingress channels into corporate networks, which often rely on the security controls built into wireless access points. Its goal is to allow businesses to mitigate interference from nearby networks that might cause problems for their own.

Detected networks can be actively blocked using the system, allowing businesses to introduce 'wireless-free zones' where all wireless communication is blocked.

However, those security features are only updated sporadically, via firmware; the AirMagnet tools, by contrast, can be updated within what Fluke claims is often less than 24 hours of identification of the new threats. The system also includes wireless monitoring, logging, auditing and performance management tools.

“Security and network operations not only have to content with the inherent dangers and performance impacts of BYOD on their networks, but also the very real risk of espionage, hacking and malicious attacks from inside or outside their corporate boundaries,” Fluke Networks CEO David Coffin said in a statement.

“As we've seen with recent attacks, companies risk long-term damage to their brand and reputation, as well as immediate lost productivity and revenue without thorough detection and mitigation of security threats. Wireless is impossible to see, but this makes our customers' wireless networks protected and visible to them.”

Companies utilising this and similar solutions will need to be judicious in their use of the Wi-Fi blocking technologies, however: as the US$600,000 fine that Marriott copped last October attests, companies interfering with personal communications may well backfire.

Marriott had joined other hotels in petitioning the US Federal Communications Commission for the right to block personal hotspots to “maintain the security and reliability” of their networks.

A consumer complaint, lodged in March 2013, alleged that Marriott's Gaylord Opryland facility was “jamming mobile hotspots so you can't use them in the convention space”.

Marriott admitted the activity, which the FCC held was contrary to so-called Section 33 regulations barring the blocking or interception of communications signals.

“The growing use of technologies that unlawfully block consumers from creating their own Wi-Fi networks via their personal hotspot devices unjustifiably prevents consumers from enjoying services they have paid for and stymies the convenience and innovation associated with Wi-Fi internet access,” FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc wrote in his October decision on the matter.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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