Wireless data vulnerable to hacking

A Staff Reporter
Filed on May 24, 2007

SHARJAH Half of the Internet connections in Dubai and Sharjah are open to attack, according to a recent study about wireless security in the United Arab Emirates, conducted at the American University of Sharjah (AUS).

"The first thing you learn about security is that nothing is secure," said Dr Fadi Aloul, Assistant Professor of Computer Engineering at the School of Engineering (SOE), AUS who supervised the study. When three of his computer engineering students unearthed surprising results from a small-scale study about wireless security, Dr Aloul wanted to expand it to a full-fledged study with help from a research grant.

"It covers a hot area that everyone is using today. Everyone is going wireless, with the devices becoming more convenient, cheap and easy to get," he said. Wireless devices are not only operating at faster speeds, they also reach wider ranges, all costing an affordable Dh300.

"Anyone can buy a device at the nearest mall and install it easily," said Dr Aloul. However, people are not aware of the dangers that come along with using wireless. The most serious problem, he pointed out, is the simple collection of valuable data that can be misused.

"Wireless is more dangerous than wired because the information that is transferred through a wired connection stays in the wire," he said. Wireless connections force information to be transmitted in the air completely defenceless and prone to hacker activity.

The problem becomes clearer given the UAE's recent surge in development. "Dubai is a high-tech city so it is a good target for a hacker to mess around in," he said.

The more dangerous problem associated with an insecure wireless device allows a hacker to steal information in the form of emails, online conversations, bank information, credit card numbers, etc. Any form of interaction on the web can be watched by an outsider and used for personal interests.

To avoid such an occurence, Dr Aloul urges wireless users to secure their devices by enabling them with a Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or an even advanced Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). These easy-to-implement security measures convert transmitted data into an illegible code, consequently dissuading hackers from attempting to decipher it.

"It only takes a minute to secure your connection. You do not need a professional to come to your house to do it," he stressed.

However, breaking these encrypted messages poses a third problem as some experienced hackers can read messages transmitted through a WEP-enabled connection. This form of hacking is advanced and since nothing is completely safe, Dr Aloul said it is important to make the connection as secure as possible.

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