IBM software aims to shut down ‘drive-by hacking’

By : |June 17, 2002 0

Elinor Mills Abreu

SAN FRANCISCO: International Business Machines Corp. on Monday announced
technology designed to close some of the holes in corporate wireless networks
and prevent outsiders from stealing data through "drive-by hacking."

The IBM software sits on laptops and PCs, analyzing traffic on an internal
802.11 wireless network and sending data to a centralized server, said Dave
Safford, manager of the global security analysis lab at IBM Research in
Hawthorne, New York.

"It turns machines into wireless auditing sniffers," he said. The
server then "crunches" the data and "spits out" a report
that can tell administrators if there are wireless access points that have been
misconfigured, Safford said. Access points are physical connections to the
computer network located throughout a site.

Wireless networks are cheap, costing less than $100, and convenient to use,
allowing workers to carry laptops from office to conference room to cafeteria.
Because they are easy to misconfigure, they pose a significant security risk,
easily exposing a computer network to attackers outside the building using
specialized wireless sniffers.

"Hackers outside the building, across the street, can connect in to the
internal network," Safford said. "They can use the network to break
into internal servers and steal data."

Enthusiastic employees have been known to set up wireless network access
points without informing their network administrators, he said. "We’ve had
audits of customer sites that have turned up 50, sometimes 100, rogue access
points they didn’t know about," Safford said.

The Distributed Wireless Security Auditor runs on the Linux operating system.
A version for Windows is pending. The software will be commercially available
later this year, according to Safford. An early version, introduced last year,
ran on Linux on personal digital assistant devices. The new version includes the
self-sensor and self-diagnosis features.

IBM researchers are talking with managers in the IBM Personal Computing
Division about preloading the software onto ThinkPad laptops, Safford said.
ThinkPads are already equipped with 802.11 wireless network capability.

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