Wireless Security Series Part 2: Get Ready to Use – and Safeguard – More Spectrum by AirMagnet Intrusion Detection Research Team

At CES 2013, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced that regulatory efforts are well underway to free up “substantial” additional spectrum for Wi-Fi to accommodate sky-rocketing demand with less congestion. In comments made at the industry’s largest annual consumer electronics event this week, Genachowski said that the FCC hopes to expand the 5 GHz band by about 35 percent. That’s the band soon to be occupied by next-generation 802.11ac Wi-FI products, along with other government uses.

Why that’s good news…

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of this band expansion will be the bumper crop of bring-your-own devices (BYODs) now flooding the airwaves, both inside and outside the workplace.

Historically, BYOD smartphones have been stuck in the small crowded 2.4 GHz “junk band.” But notebooks with 2x2 11ac emerged in late 2012; Broadcom estimates that by 3Q13, 70 percent of new smartphones will ship with 1x1 11ac. This BYOD growth will ratchet up demand for 5 GHz spectrum because, unlike legacy 802.11 b/g/n products, next-generation 11ac products transmit Wi-Fi EXCLUSIVELY on channels in the 5 GHz band.

In fact, hundreds of “pre-11ac” products were on display at CES 2013, from consumer-grade APs to new Wi-Fi gadgets in all shapes and sizes – including phablets, convertible tablet, all-in-ones, and even table PCs. In particular, CES 2013 served as a “coming out party” for new Windows 8 touch-screen devices that Microsoft hopes will put a dent in the iPad/Android craze by luring consumers drawn to the convenience of a tablet but the productivity of “real desktop OS.”

All these brand new tablet-ish devices will join new smartphones in competing for 5 GHz airspace in 2H13 and beyond. The FCC’s plan to expand the 5 GHz band will literally bring a breath of fresh air for enterprise WLAN planners scrambling to meet this insatiable demand for wireless bandwidth.

…And bad news

On the flip side, every network expansion creates a larger attack surface: more turf to monitor and defend against accidental misuse and malicious activity. The 5 GHz band expansion will mean more channels to scan for rogues, more BYODs to inventory, track, and sometimes contain, more traffic to analyze, and more events to report on.

In short, the FCC’s welcome spectral expansion further increases the importance of automated surveillance, detection, fingerprinting, classification, locationing, and incident response. All of the security needs that eventually drive mobility-enabled businesses to deploy a Wireless IPS such as AirMagnet Enterprise. In fact, forward-thinking businesses should be actively planning to expand not just their WLAN infrastructure for 11ac, but also their WLAN surveillance infrastructure.

Those soon-to-be-allocated 5 GHz channels? At first, they’ll be frequented by entry-level consumer electronic devices – new residential APs, new UBS adapters, and new wireless-enabled video products seeking gobs of less-congested airspace (i.e., 160 MHz wide channels). Enterprise APs will follow business demand for expanded capacity. But, in the meantime, WLAN admins will need to start monitoring those new channels for unauthorized activity – especially next-generation rogues that will undoubtedly take advantage of any new channel to “hide in plain sight.”

Bottom line: Get ready to take advantage of the gift that the FCC is preparing to give the world of Wi-Fi, while simultaneously prepping to keep a watchful eye over all those BYODs that will be the first to use it.

Related WLAN Resources
Wireless Security Series Part I: Deauthentication Attacks
Bringing BYODs into the Fold
Dynamic Threat Protection

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