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University of Sunderland

Vulnerabilities in wireless mobile data exchange

Posted on: October 12, 2023
Digital technology, internet network connection, big data, digital marketing, social media concept. Double exposure of man using smart mobile phone surfing internet and the city, technology background

Wireless mobile data exchange is the process of transmitting digital data over wireless networks using internet-connected mobile devices. Also known as wireless data communication, it’s transformed the ways in which we communicate and share information – via our smartphones, laptops and tablets – making it simpler, more convenient and quicker than ever before.

But it’s not without its issues: the volume and frequency at which we engage with wireless mobile data exchange has exposed our devices – and our sensitive data – to dangerous privacy and security threats. Securing devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) is critical to avoid, or at least minimise, the potential for exploitation.

So, how can we protect our wireless communication and prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands?

What are the vulnerabilities in wireless mobile data exchange?

Are there inherent vulnerabilities in wireless mobile data exchange? And how can hackers exploit these security vulnerabilities and gain access to our mobile devices?

Cyberthreats are becoming increasingly common, and the methods of attack ever-more sophisticated and difficult to detect. While vulnerabilities can be related to hardware and software, many are a result of accidental human error.

Some of the main vulnerabilities and types of attack linked to wireless mobile data exchange include:

  • Rogue access points. Some wireless access points are ‘rogue’, set up by hackers to mimic legitimate networks and trick unsuspecting users into connecting to fake Wi-Fi hotspots. Once a mobile device is connected via the internet or Bluetooth, attackers can steal sensitive information.
  • Denial-of-service attacks (DoS attacks). DoS attacks bombard wireless networks with traffic. This results in users being unable to access certain services or networks, and overburdened networks becoming slow or unavailable.
  • Data interception. Attackers use specialised tools to intercept data as it’s transmitted via radio waves, in a technique known as ‘eavesdropping’.
  • Malware attacks. Malware aims to ‘infect’ wireless networks in order to take control of devices and steal data. Common methods of spreading malware include ‘spoofing’, where suspicious websites and fake apps pose as legitimate platforms, and phishing emails containing malicious links.
  • Piggybacking. Unsecured wireless networks allow individuals with wireless-enabled devices in range of your access point to use the connection. This unauthorised access can allow attackers to steal personal files, monitor online activity and conduct illegal business.
  • Weak encryption. Encryption is used to protect data by ‘scrambling’ it, rendering it inaccessible and unreadable. However, not all encryption protocols are as strong as others and cybercriminals exploit weaker variations to gain access to networks and operating systems.

Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, session hijacking, pivoting, and leakage resulting from misconfigured signal strength are also common issues that computer science specialists must prepare for.

What are the best practices for safeguarding mobile devices and wireless data exchange?

The good news is that there are a wide range of preventative measures that can help to significantly reduce the vulnerabilities and risks associated with wireless network security.

Cybersecurity professionals and network administrators can employ network security measures – including intrusion detection and antivirus software, firewalls and prevention systems – to safeguard wireless networks from potential attacks.

If hackers do manage to access your private network, a good way to prevent them from viewing sensitive information is to encrypt wireless network data by means of encryption protocol. Maintaining privacy of credentials, limiting and monitoring network access, and implementing authentication processes is also valuable.

IT specialists must tightly enforce access control to their networks, only allowing authorised users – with authorised media access control (MAC) and IP addresses – to connect and access systems.

If you protect your service set identifier (SSID), hackers and unauthorised users will find it harder to discover and easily access your network. Never leave the SSID as the manufacturer’s default setting; instead, use the router to change it to something unique and avoid publicising it.

Many organisations and companies – as well as individuals who understand the importance of network security – use a virtual private network (VPN). This allows employees, or other authorised users, to securely connect to a shared network when working remotely. VPNs also encrypt data that is sent and received and prevent unencrypted traffic.

Additional practices include: deleting apps that are no longer in use and updating ones that are; ensuring access point software is patched and updated; changing default passwords; providing sufficient online safety and security training for users; and never sharing files across public networks, and avoiding unsecured networks.

What is wireless security protocol?

Wireless security protocols exist to secure networks and protect the data of network users. As Wi-Fi networks tend to be less secure than wired networks, they require encryption technology in order to keep people safe as they use the internet via smart devices.

The wireless security protocols currently in use, and certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, are:

  •   Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)
  •   Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)
  •   Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA 2)
  •   Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA 3).

WEP is the most common, and oldest, type of Wi-Fi network protocol; it was initially established as part of the IEEE 802.11. It provides wireless local area networks (WLANs) with the same degree of security as traditional, wired local area networks (LANs) – as its privacy component. WPA 3 is currently the strongest encryption protocol and is recommended.

Develop robust cybersecurity measures to defend against cyberattacks and uphold data privacy

Enhance the cyber resilience of your organisation – including the protection of wireless communications – with the University of Sunderland’s online MSc Computer Science with Cybersecurity programme.

You’ll gain expertise across a broad range of cybersecurity topics, equipping yourself with the means to design, implement, maintain and monitor effective information security across all systems and networks. Your theoretical and practical skills will encompass key areas of computer science, from software engineering, database management and programming, to network infrastructure, data science and computer architecture. You’ll explore key aspects of the cybersecurity space, including threat intelligence, risk management, cryptography, application security, and more. Plus, become adept in in-demand programming languages including Python, R, CISCO and Oracle, on a flexible course that fits around your existing commitments.

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