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As WEP is hopelessly flawed, we recommend implementing Virtual Private Networking (VPN) for your WLANs. A VPN is a virtual, encrypted network built on top of an existing network. This process is also known as tunneling , because the encrypted data stream is set up and maintained within a normal, unencrypted connection. A VPN extends the safe internal network to the remote user. Therefore, the remote wireless user exists in both networks at the same time. The wireless network remains available, but a VPN tunnel is created to connect the remote client to the internal network, making all the resources of the internal network available to the user .
As we've discussed, the encryption used by most implementations of WEP is flawed. However, if a system employs VPN encryption in addition to WEP encryption, an attacker is forced to decipher the data twice. The first layer is the crackable WEP encryption and the second layer is the robust VPN encryption. Since attackers cannot easily reproduce the VPN's passphrase, certificate, or smartcard key, their success rate at cracking the VPN traffic will be very low.
While using both a VPN and WEP is definitely an advantage, there is a major downside. The problem arises due to the additional processing that encrypting and deciphering data requires. Using WEP with VPN on a properly configured firewall/access point can affect transmission speed and throughput by as much as 80%. This impact can have serious consequences on network connectivity and may all but eliminate the end user's enthusiasm for the wireless connection.
In addition, using VPN over wireless requires that client software be installed on every user's device. This requirement creates a few issues for end users. For example, most embedded VPN software is written for the Windows platform. Macs, Unix-based computers, and palm-top computers may not be able to connect to the WLAN. While this problem may not be an issue for most home users and small businesses, it could be seriously detrimental for a large or rapidly growing corporation.
The remote authentication dial-in user service (RADIUS) is a protocol responsible for authenticating remote connections made to a system, providing authorization to network resources, and logging for accountability purposes. While the protocol was actually developed years ago to help remote modem users securely connect to and authenticate with corporate networks, it has now evolved to the point where it can also be used in VPNs and WLANs to control almost every aspect of a user's connection.
There are several brands of RADIUS servers available. One of the more popular is Funk's Steel Belted RADIUS server, which is often deployed with Lucent WLAN setups. Cisco has one, Microsoft has another, and there is even one called FreeRADIUS which is for Unix users. Regardless, they all work relatively the same way.
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