Tips to Deal with Wireless Network Guest Access

By CIOReview | Monday, July 25, 2016
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Overview

A wireless network that uses radio waves to connect devices to the Internet and to your business network and its applications is an inevitable part of contemporary business. When you connect a laptop to a Wi-Fi hotspot at a cafe, hotel, airport lounge, or other public place, you're connecting to that business's wireless network.

A wireless network has become broadly popular because of some of its impressive benefits that include:

• Convenience - Access the network resources from any location within the wireless network's coverage area or from any Wi-Fi hotspot.
• Mobility - The user can enjoy freedom of movement unlike that of a wired network where you have to keep connected to the wire on the desk.
• Easy setup - The installation can be quick and cost-effective and also there is no burden of wiring.
• Expandability - The wireless networks can be expanded easily with existing equipment, while a wired network might require additional wiring.

Managing Guest Access

Even though the wireless networks offer numerous benefits, it has some backdrops too. As going wireless sends the signals through air, any device within the range can pull the signal and gain access to the network unless there is a lack of proper precautions. This can even result in data loss or misuse of the network for illegal activities that can finally end up in you when tracked. Keeping the wireless networks safe and secured from external interference is an important part of an organizations network security. When the wireless network is implemented, the information that is send over the wireless network should be encrypted, so that nearby attackers can’t eavesdrop on these communications. Any person with a device connected with the network can also be a threat to the network under certain circumstances. Managing the guest access is one major aspect, as in a network with weak guest access security, any intruder might hack into the whole system resulting in security breach. The networks should be defined with proper access policies to safeguard the network from any unauthorized intrusion through the guest network. Providing guest access isn't just about limiting Internet routing but organizations should think of guest access as another class of service (CoS) enabled on the network. In addition, the guest access need not always be on a single set of IT-approved capabilities. Instead, organizations can customize services for different types of guest users.

Check out these five tips to consider when setting up a network access policy for guests:

• Operational specifications

The organizations should enable guest access focusing on the client base, with open internet access restricting some of the sites that are irrelevant in the organization. Network admin can also enable wireless printer access or limited access to a public file directory for some outsiders, such as collaborative, long-term or even high-priority guests while maintaining the Quality of Service (QoS). Some organizations prefer to limit access to a defined set of allowed devices and operating systems to minimize unauthorized data intrusion opportunities.

• Per-session WPA2 keys

Allotting a single password for all the users might be a wrong move, as per-user, per-session passwords can make it easier to manage users that are found risky in the network.  Enterprise-grade guest wireless network access should require security at the WPA2 level or greater -- 802.1X, IPsec, SSL, or a similar level of security. An organization with open guest network can be highly vulnerable to security issues and cyber attacks. Using any third party applications or services that can automatically assign security keys on a per-user basis can be a better option to manage guest access.

• Splash-page agreement

A well defined security and network access policy should be created for every organization and has to be included in the network privacy policy agreement. These policies should be listed on a splash page that any connecting guest must pass through before connecting to the network. The page should be included with a mandatory "click here to agree" button without which the user is denied access. This provides a degree of protection if a guest violates the organizational policies or even local laws.

• Credentials expiration

When login credentials are kept unchanged for long, they often become a security hole allowing unauthorized access into the network even from outside the organizational area. To avoid such adversities the login credentials for a guest should automatically expire after a predefined period. The credentials should not be available for further usage and user should be restricted from resetting the credentials. 

• Identity management

Collecting and maintaining the guest access credentials and information for further analysis of guest network usage has to be done. Choosing a WLAN system with identity management (IDM) system is highly recommended. These systems can not only enable the network admin to collect guest credentials information but also make it easy to create multiple classes of guests. Multiple classes of groups are effective methods of managing permissions for each group, further enhancing the security policy and also allowing classified access, depending to the types of visitors.

Conclusion

In general, guest access is a type of CoS with an associated security and routing policies applied in parallel with other traffic. It highly depends on the set of policies and user groups defined with routing and permissions defined depending on the user needs and data access.

Even though enterprise class WLAN systems are designed for use in large enterprises with diverse environments, they can be best suited for the smaller organizations also. While consumer-grade WLAN’s generally offer a guest-access function, it might not always be useful for the smaller organizations in defining proper security policies. This could even lead to a security breach with complete data loss. Thus it is recommended to go for a better security system that can address the requirements noted above.