Monday, August 24, 2015

How a 2005 WiFi Network will Destroy you by 2020

Growing up in the 90's and early 2000's, my electronic experiences were dominated by wires. The desktop computer I bought in 2000 (with a year's worth of paper route earnings) had a cabled mouse and keyboard, not to mention a fat, CRT monitor that weight 20 pounds. The controllers I held for the video games I played were mostly tethered by cables. Sure, cordless versions of mice, keyboards, and even game controllers were available, but required frequent battery changes or charges, and left much to be desired in terms of performance. While WiFi existed as an option for connecting to networks and the internet, it was generally slow (54 Mbps at best) as compared to ethernet connections that could handle 100 Mbps without the headache of connectivity issues. Tablets were non-existent, and laptops that weighed 8 or more pounds were a pain to use in any real mobile sense. As an older Millennial born in the 80's, it comes with little surprise that I tend to associates cables and wires with reliability and speed.

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This is not the experience of younger Millennials, and the latest generation of "Boomlets" born after 2001. As a high school freshman in 2000, a personal computer in your bedroom was a luxury. Now, it is the odd one out who doesn't have a smart phone by middle school. Just as general computer proficiency wanes the higher you climb the generational ladder past gen X-ers, so too does an appreciation for electronic mobility diminish beyond most Millennials. However, it's not Baby Boomers who will be entering the workforce in droves and representing more and more consumers hanging out in lobbies over the next five years. It turns out a wireless network from 2005 isn't going to earn their favor or their business, and those who think otherwise are in for some hard times.

The sit-at-your-desk-all-day work environments considered normal through 2010 are fading fast. Millenials don't remember a world without computers, and untethered internet access from their pockets is 2nd nature. While one can accomplish basic browsing from a fairly robust cellular network, limited data plans and spotty coverage drive smart phone users toward (often free) WiFi connections. This expectation carries into the workplace, and Millennials demand corporate network access to perform their jobs seamlessly away from their office desks, from home, or traveling abroad. Businesses unable to facilitate a mobile-friendly engagement will struggle to capture the talent of the next generation's workforce. Conversely, organizations that embrace and promote a mobile spirit now will enjoy a competitive edge in their talent pools for years to come.

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But there is more for businesses to be concerned with than just attracting mobile-ready employees. The same expectation for a mobile engagement also lies with the next generation of consumers. On site guests and customers expect WiFi access, especially if they will be spending any significant amount of time on site to obtain your services. Hospitals, hotels, resorts, coffee shops, sports arenas, automotive service centers, salons, grocery stores, corporate conference rooms, schools, even office lobbies and reception areas are feeling the pressure of providing WiFi access for their guests. The newest cars are even WiFi ready! As more and more everyday services and tools are made available via the internet, the everyday consumer's reliance on a steady connection to access those tools while making decisions about the services they purchase will only increase. The future of consumers will quickly write off organizations that cannot facilitate an acceptable guest WiFi experience in favor of their competitors that do.

How future generations engage with the world around them in an increasingly mobile capacity means a great deal to how they will do business. The businesses that are most successful will be the forward thinking ones that facilitate the trend.

Monday, August 3, 2015

How to be safe with Windows 10 WiFi Sense

The latest operating system from Microsoft, Windows 10, is here. The new platform includes a number of updates from previous versions, including WiFi Sense - a feature first introduced in Windows phones that allows users to share access to WiFi networks with their friends. The idea here is to remove the hassle of always needing to hunt down a password when connecting to trusted WiFi networks. While certainly convenient, as Microsoft seeks to adopt as many end-users as possible to Windows 10 (qualified Windows 7 and Windows 8 users can update for free), there are a few things everyone should know about WiFi Sense to stay safe and secure.

How it works
WiFi Sense is on by default if you choose express settings during Windows 10 installation - which most users will select. However, it doesn't actually do anything until you've signed in with your Microsoft account, and then joined a new WiFi network. Upon joining a new network, WiFi sense will ask you if you want to share access to it with others. This typically includes all of your Outlook and Skype contacts, as well as your Facebook friends. That is as far as the sharing goes, though. A friend you've shared access with via WiFi Sense can not then share that access with their own friends and contacts.

WiFi Sense then stores the network passkey on a Microsoft server, and it is pulled down in an encrypted form when a shared contact wanders within range of the shared wireless network. The actual passkey is never displayed in this process, which is a good thing, however, it needs to be de-crypted on your device at some point, so there remains the possibility that the password could be found deep in your PC's registry settings.

Should I be worried!?
On the surface, this does reflect a security concern. After all, someone with the right know-how could potentially access your registry and discover the password. However, let's consider how WiFi network passwords are currently shared with friends. Generally, as a host, you provide your password for them to punch into their device directly. At this point, that friend knows the actual password, and is free to share it with whoever they like. At least with WiFi Sense, obtaining your actual password is significantly more complicated.

The good news is that WiFi Sense will not over-ride networks that rely on additional authentication protocols like 802.1x EAP, however, for offices that rely on a simple WPA/WPA2 passkey, there is greater concern. With how easy it is to share WiFi access with all of your friends on Facebook, businesses with with secure corporate WiFi networks will do well to educate their employees around the importance of NOT sharing corporate network access via WiFi Sense, and IT departments rolling out Windows 10 are advised to take time to configure WiFi Sense (disabling it altogether is probably best) on devices before putting them in the hands of employees.

At the end of the day, the consumer's ability to easily share WiFi with friends is probably going to win over the potential security compromises. For those who are especially concerned, turning WiFi Sense off will be your best recourse.

How to turn WiFi Sense off
To Turn off WiFi Sense in Windows 10, click the Start button, type "WiFi," and select "change WiFi settings." Once the next window pops up, click "Manage WiFi settings." From here, you can turn WiFi Sense off, as well as adjust a number of other settings, which allow you change which networks you share passwords on, as well as opt specific networks in or out of password sharing.