September 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio September 2003 Current Issue
September 2003 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

The latest ways to thwart hackers and protect critical information

Recent news articles and warnings about a loose-knit group of hackers competing to bring down various Internet sites brings home the importance of security, both on wired computers and wireless devices.

Ever been talking on a cell phone when someone else’s conversation comes through? The same thing happens on wireless PCs and PDAs when they are transmitting, but instead of overhearing tidbits about a blind date, these people could be lifting private and business information from a PC while a user is surfing the web or communicating with the office.

As this column previously has noted, users need to make sure their connection has a firewall to prevent or at least alert them to an intrusion; it’s also wise to keep antivirus subscriptions up-to-date. Many companies are adding multiple internal firewalls to prevent unauthorized access if the first firewall is breached.

But even when antivirus systems are in place, users still can be vulnerable to attack. Here’s a personal example: I recently moved and relocated my desktop PC to the new house. I did not have my DSL for a week, so I plugged in on dial-up to a major online access provider. While researching this article, my PC was attacked four times by hackers attempting to gain access. Fortunately, my Norton Internet Security software continued to run and stopped each attack.

Picture a radio antenna with a round band of signals being sent out into the air, broadcasting to anyone with a receiver. When someone turns on their radio, the station selected does not narrow its beam to that one device, but keeps sending out the signal to all who can access it.

The same holds true for any wireless connection. PCs or PDAs constantly are beaming themselves to the area around them, which can be far greater than the user’s office or the distance from one PDA to another. In some cases, wireless networks can broadcast over the space of several blocks, while “war driving” hackers who cruise neighborhoods with antennas on their car roofs connected to PCs, looking for wireless networks can pick up the user’s signal to access the Internet, the user’s corporate network or information on their PC.

The popularity of wireless devices has lead to a shareware/freeware explosion of software designed specifically to help hackers acquire users’ signals and identities. Even PDAs attendees bring to meetings to beam business cards, update agendas or check e-mail are broadcasting and subject to illegal access. More importantly, when users return home, viruses can be off-loaded during the sync process and can infect PCs and their networks.

How to protect oneself? Among the products on the market for PDAs is McAfee VirusScanWireless (, which costs $24.95 for a one-year subscription; it protects against viruses in much the same way as antivirus programs and firewalls protect computers.

PC-cillin from Trend Micro ( is available in several configurations; a five-user license costs $160. It provides protection from viruses and unauthorized access to notebooks and wireless devices, and it also protects wired networks.

Two informative white papers (both free) are “Wireless LAN Security” from Internet Security Systems ( and “Wireless Lan Security What Hackers Know That You Don’t” from AirDefense Inc. (

The upshot: Before connecting to the next wireless kiosk or firing up a notebook at the coffee shop, take precautions to ensure the security of your data.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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