Similar to the infancy of the Internet itself a decade prior, the advent of WiFi was met with initial uncertainty and skepticism. Was it a technological breakthrough, short-term fad, both, or neither?
In the last ten years or so since the birth of wireless web connectivity, it’s safe to say WiFi is not only an icon of radio spectrum science but an integral part of societies worldwide. Imagining a world with every web-enabled device still tethered to a wall by Ethernet cable seems impossible. This is especially considering how much we’ve grown fond of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.
However, there is one thing about WiFi which remains as uncertain as it was a decade ago and that’s the potential consequences of unauthorized access to networks. Part of the recent progress stems from the popularity of professional grade network security applications. These safeguards act as inhibitors of the increasingly common tactics of cyber criminals.
Though popular, the usage of dedicated wireless network protection is not widespread enough. Somewhere out there is an industry or infrastructure on which a portion of society depends upon that has not taken the time or the effort to make their WiFi battle-ready in the event of a virtual assault. If and when such an assault is to take place the effects and damage inflicted upon individuals will depend only on the extent of the industry or infrastructure targeted.
Such a scenario is becoming more likely than ever before thanks to a number of factors:
The age of the traditional personal computer is slowly giving way to the rise of tablets and other touchscreen, voice-command mobile devices. When wireless internet debuted a little over ten years ago, it arrived at a time when your options were desktop or laptop, Microsoft or Macintosh. While these gadgets and operating systems are still around, they’re competing against more than just each other. This in turn drives up demand for networks to be accessible by dozens of devices running on as many different systems, which leads to more pathways that need to be protected, lest they be exploited.
State-Sponsored Cyber Crime
Once upon a time the world’s most elaborate examples of online espionage and data breaching came from whiz kids in the suburbs. More and more cyber attacks are now occurring at the behest of nation-states, so-called nation-states, and other organizations with a lot of money to go around. In short, the attacks themselves are more sophisticated than ever before thanks to the power behind them. Furthermore, the attacks are less about proving a point and mischief, as were the common motives of hackers past, and more about doing actual damage or committing intellectual theft.
Hacking Made Easier
Back to the old school hackers. These days the authorities refer to it as “Anonymous” - these guys and gals are for the most part a band of Robin Hood type cyber criminals who have reasonably noble intentions despite the illegalities of their actions. However a select few of these folks are simply out to enjoy watching the temple fall down around them. Hackers are choosing to create relatively easy to use programs for less-than-capable cyber criminals to have a chance at stealing identities and holding data for ransom.
More Users Worldwide
Think of the global mass of Internet users as a big city: bigger population leads to a higher crime rate. Then imagine a city where every home and business were interconnected by tubes big enough for a person to travel through (think Futurama). It’s easy to see how purely by statistical inevitability, the number of cyber attacks are always going up in a world of growing wireless connectivity.
Ten years and counting is a lot of time to get used to technology and take it for granted. Most of us, as mentioned earlier, probably can’t even remember what life was like without wireless internet access. This can lead to businesses and individuals having minimal to no concern anymore for the potential risks associated with WiFi. Does the current level of networks security take into account the many devices and systems out there? Does it update with every newly identified form of malware and cyber crime technique developed daily?
The technological achievement and cultural popularity of wireless internet is apparent. What isn’t as visible, unfortunately, are the many threats facing these relatively open computer networks. Opting for state-of-the-art security is key, but so is being mindful of the fact that as times change, risks do too.