Networks are digital worlds, but they are also cables, ports, servers, and endpoints. As a consequence, not all cyber attacks exist in cyberspace alone. These too can have a real-world component — and rogue access points are one example of that.
Looking to understand how to protect against rogue access points? This article will review what a rogue access point is, explain the difference between a rogue access point and an evil twin, and provide a complete set of current best practices for prevention.
Wondering where the concept of Zero Trust fits in with all of this? It may not be the singular fix you've heard advertised. Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more:
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What Are Rogue Access Points?
A rogue access point — or rogue AP — is a wireless access point plugged into an organization’s network that the security team does not know exists. While rogue access points can be used as part of a coordinated attack, employees unaware of proper cybersecurity protocol often install them. Most of the time, a rogue access point is a personal router that an employee connected to the network for work purposes, but they could look like anything from a wireless card jutting out of a server to a small device attached to a company firewall.
Whether installed maliciously or not, rogue access points add to the attack surface. They do not have the same security features as the rest of the network, are not monitored by the security team, and grant easy access to the greater network. If taken advantage of by cybercriminals, rogue access points can lead to enormous organizational damage.
One particularly effective method for preventing rogue access points is adopting an endpoint technology that can detect, report, and alert for rogue access points across your extended enterprise (IT, OT, cloud, work-from-anywhere, third-party and public wi-fi locations). For a deeper understanding of the topic, this article explains how rogue access points and other attacker techniques can be prevented.
Understanding Rogue Access Points
A rogue access point is an unauthorized Wi-Fi access point that is added to a network without the knowledge or permission of the network administrator. These rogue access points can take several forms, including:
Evil twin: An attacker creates a Wi-Fi network with the same name and security credentials as a legitimate network in the area. Unsuspecting users connect to the rogue network, allowing the attacker to intercept their traffic.
Misconfigured access point: A legitimate access point is configured improperly, leaving it open to attack. This could include using a weak password or failing to implement encryption.
Ad-hoc network: An attacker creates a network using their device and connects to the network. This allows them to intercept traffic and perform other malicious activities.
Shadow IT AP: An AP installed and managed outside of the IT department's knowledge or control, typically by employees or departments within the organization who use their own budget and resources to set up their own wireless networks without approval or oversight from the IT department. These rogue access points pose a significant security risk to the enterprise, as they can potentially expose sensitive information to unauthorized users and compromise the integrity of the organization's network.
The risks associated with rogue access points include data theft, malware & ransomware, and denial-of-service attacks.
Rogue Access Points vs. Evil Twin
While they are conceptually similar, rogue access points and evil twins have very different threat profiles. A rogue access point is physically plugged into the network and grants users access to the secured network. An evil twin can also be within the network’s physical parameters, but it is not part of the network. Unlike rogue access points, evil twins don’t inflict damage by directly compromising a network’s security. Instead, they lure unsuspecting users to connect to the access point and go about their business, on what they thought was the corporate network, leaking sensitive information directly to an attacker.
How to Protect Against Rogue Access Points
There are several layers to comprehensive rogue access point prevention: physically securing your network, isolating endpoints, utilizing security software, and educating employees. Let’s start our review of how to prevent rogue access points by exploring the vital role physical security measures have to play.
Physically secure your network: Cybersecurity is not just desk work. To neutralize the threat of rogue access points, your team needs to put on their detective hats. Do regular sweeps of the physical space, keeping a close eye out for unfamiliar devices or suspicious equipment. Apply particular attention to low-tech zones like warehouses or loading areas as they are easy to overlook — and consequently more vulnerable.
You also need to identify, tag, and secure all your network equipment. Attach clear labels on everything from cables to ports so you can readily know if anything is amiss during a sweep. To ensure only authorized personnel can physically access equipment, keep as much of it as you can under lock and key.
Prevent endpoints from connecting directly to the Rogue AP: In addition to checking the network for unauthorized APs these two steps, there are solutions to prevent your endpoints from connecting to rogue access points that can significantly increase your organization’s security profile. Oftentimes, it’s too easy for employees to connect to Rogue Access Points - they look the same as the real network and are not detectable by the human eye at first glance.
So how can we protect endpoints from connecting to these networks without interfering with an employee’s workflow? Hardware-based microsegmentation isolates endpoints onto their own protected micro-segments, strengthening defenses against lateral movement and increasing granular control over the network. Rapidly gaining traction in the industry, this novel approach to the network security aspect of Zero Trust is now available through the Byos Secure Gateway. If you're ready to learn more, reach out here.
Identifying Rogue Access Points
One of the first steps in preventing rogue access point attacks is identifying them. Wi-Fi scanning tools can help detect unauthorized access points in the area. These tools can scan for all access points in the area and provide details about each one, including the signal strength, security protocols used, and more.
In addition, network monitoring tools can be used to detect rogue access points. These tools can monitor traffic on the network and identify any traffic that is not coming from a known and trusted source.
Best Practices for Preventing Rogue Access Point Attacks
In addition to the techniques listed above, there are several best practices that organizations can implement to prevent rogue access point attacks. Preventing rogue access point attacks requires a combination of techniques, including:
- Configure Access Points Securely: Securing Wi-Fi access points by using strong passwords, enabling encryption, and disabling unused features. Access points should also be configured to use the latest security protocols and firmware updates.
- Conduct Security Audits: Regular security audits can help identify vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi network and prevent rogue access point attacks. These audits can include penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, and network scanning.
- Disable Rogue Access Points: The first step in responding to a rogue access point is to disconnect it. This can be done by disabling the port or disconnecting the device. Inside an enterprise’s premises, many wifi vendors provide the ability to detect rogue access points over the airwaves, and to prohibit users from accessing them. Network scanners can also detect rogue access points on the wired network, but bad actors have ways to avoid detection.
- Implement New Security Measures: Once the attack has been resolved, new security measures should be implemented to prevent similar attacks in the future. This may include updating security protocols, implementing access controls, and conducting regular security audits.
- Educate your employees and create a security policy: Because many rogue access points can be installed by legitimate employees for benign reasons, educating your staff on the risks can mitigate the likelihood of this threat. As we have mentioned before, the continual education of the entire staff on cyber threats and security etiquette applies a powerful multiplier to the effectiveness of your security team.
In addition to general best practices, it is good to put specific policies in place to ensure employee compliance. This policy has a couple of components:
Create a no-exceptions policy forbidding the installation of any wireless access point independent of the participation of the security team. Employees can still set up a network connection; they just need to work with your department to ensure that it has all the required security coverage when they do.
Establish a time-boxed amnesty program that encourages staff to tell you about unauthorized access points they already installed. Use language carefully here. You do not need to browbeat your employees or make them feel incompetent for creating this security risk. Instead, let them know that everyone makes these errors, and it is no problem as long as they let you know. As for the length of the period, one month should be sufficient time for your staff to report back.
Finally, make sure to consistently re-educate your staff on cybersecurity generally and the organization’s rogue access point policy in particular. Like many things, repetition is a key to creating a cyber-literate workforce.
Next Steps in Rogue Access Point Prevention
This article provided several ways to protect against rogue access points, including education, detection, and policies. Although rogue access points are not always the work of malicious actors, rogue access points do always represent a significant threat to the security of your network. To ensure you minimize the risk of such security holes, it is often a good idea to have a comprehensive approach to rogue access point prevention.
Above all else, hardware-enforced microsegmentation is integral to preventing endpoints from connecting to rogue access points before the attackers have a chance to get a foothold. Combining physical and cybersecurity measures, the Byos Secure Edge is a microsegmentation solution that makes your endpoints invisible to attackers.
What is a rogue access point?
A rogue access point is an unauthorized Wi-Fi access point that is added to a network without the knowledge or permission of the network administrator.
How can I detect rogue access points?
Wi-Fi scanning tools and network monitoring tools can be used to detect rogue access points.
What are the risks associated with rogue access points?
The risks associated with rogue access points include data theft, malware injection, and denial-of-service attacks.
How can I prevent rogue access point attacks?
Preventing rogue access point attacks requires a combination of techniques, including configuring access points securely, implementing strong passwords, using security certificates, setting up access controls, and conducting regular security audits.
What are some best practices for preventing rogue access point attacks?
Best practices for preventing rogue access point attacks include training employees on security protocols, regularly updating software and firmware, and establishing a security policy.