Protect wireless access using authentication and encryption.
DiscussionOrganizations authenticate individuals and devices to help protect wireless access to the system. Special attention is given to the wide variety of devices that are part of the Internet of Things with potential wireless access to organizational systems.
Further DiscussionUse a combination of authentication and encryption methods to protect the access to wireless networks. Authenticating users to a wireless access point can be achieved in multiple ways. The most common authentication and encryption methods used include:
- WPA2-PSK (WiFi Protected Access-Pre-shared Key) - This method uses a password or passphrase known by the wireless access point and the client (user device). It is common in small companies that have little turnover because the key must be changed each time an employee leaves in order to prevent the terminated employee from connecting to the network without authorization. WPA2 is typically configured to use Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption.
- WPA2 Enterprise - This method may be better for larger companies and enterprise networks because authentication is based on the identity of the individual user or device rather than a shared password or passphrase. It typically requires a Remote Authentication Dial-in User Service (RADIUS) server for authentication and can provide higher security than WPA2-PSK.
Example 1You manage the wireless network at a small company and are installing a new wireless solution. You start by selecting a product that employs encryption validated against the FIPS 140 standard. You configure the wireless solution to use WPA2, requiring users to enter a pre-shared key to connect to the wireless network [a,b].
Example 2You manage the wireless network at a large company and are installing a new wireless solution. You start by selecting a product that employs encryption that is validated against the FIPS 140 standard. Because of the size of your workforce, you configure the wireless system to authenticate users with a RADIUS server. Users must provide the wireless system with their domain usernames and passwords to be able to connect, and the RADIUS server verifies those credentials. Users unable to authenticate are denied access [a,b].
Potential Assessment Considerations
- Is wireless access limited only to authenticated and authorized users (e.g., required to supply a username and password) [a]?
- If the organization is securing its wireless network with a pre-shared key, is access to that key restricted to only authorized users [a]?
- Is wireless access encrypted using FIPS-validated cryptography? Note that simply using an approved algorithm is not sufficient; the module (software and/or hardware) used to implement the algorithm must be separately validated under FIPS 140 [b].