RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — If one thinks of those people attending high-profile tech shows like Supercomm as representing the “best and brightest”, then it’s staggering to read that so many of these experts and their companies would be as careless about security as they apparently were.

Despite increased concerns about the security of wireless networks, last week’s showcase event of the communications industry — Supercomm — was filled with companies deploying and using porous communications, says AirDefense.

The report follows other critical assessments of security at the recent Networld+InterOp and Wi-Fi Plant trade shows by AirDefense.

The Atlanta-based firm, which focuses on wireless network monitoring and security, said its staff “detected an accelerated growth of soft APs (access points)”. Both AirDefense and IBM monitored wireless LAN usage at the show.

“Call Supercomm 2004 ‘the year of the soft AP,'” said Richard Rushing, chief security officer of AirDefense, in a statement. “People are taking control of their connectivity by purchasing software that turns their laptops into functioning access points. Consequently they are creating additional confusion and interference on the already congested network.”

The company said as many as 117 users tried to connect to one of the IBM-provided “hot spots” at one time. Because of the congestion, users ended up connecting to “soft APs”.

Interestingly, AirDefense also found that many attendees were using passwords in clear text.

“The on-demand, unsecured access seen at the show is easily transferred to the corporate environment,” said John Suehr, IBM Managed Security segment executive, in a statement. “However, as apparent by what we are seeing at Supercomm, organizations need to more closely educate and monitor how employees are using wireless devices. Using unsecured devices, whether inside or out of the company firewall, puts organizations at risk.”

(By the way, IBM and AirDefense announced last week that IBM would recognize AirDefense as the security solution for IBM Managed Security Services Wireless Intrusion Detection.)

Unfortunately, the Chicago show was not the only place that AirDefense found such weak defenses and careless users.

At NetWorld+InterOp in Las Vegas in May, AirDefense documented “unsecured communications, information theft, Denial of Service Attacks, and high congestion limiting network performance.” It reported “unsecured wireless devices and numerous security threats.”

At Wi-Fi Planet, a wireless network trade show earlier this month, new hacker tools were found to be in use, and so were soft APs

“Wireless is entering into organizations regardless of IT’s policy,” said Richard Rushing, chief security officer of AirDefense, at the Wi-Fi show. “Whether organizations embrace the convenience of wireless or not, they need to be aware of the threats wireless causes and defend their air space like any other corporate asset.”

Rushing also warned that hackers were increasing the speed with which they could develop tools to crack networks that are protected and users are trained to maintain security.

“Typically it takes attack tools six to nine months after release before they are widely-used among hackers. You may see one or two devices running newer attacks, but today we detected eight different devices running Hotspotter, eight Airsnarfing tools and 12 soft APs,” he said at the show. “We can deduce that either people are writing better and more sophisticated tools, or the tools are becoming more portable since they now operate on multiple operating systems.”

According to AirDefense, Hotspotter scans laptops for vulnerability while Airsnarf steals usernames and passwords at public hotspots.
After what happened at Supercomm, how many IT folks and users are heeding the warnings?