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Aug 10, 2005 | 22:16 GMT

3 mins read

Safeguarding Personal Information in the Wireless Age

U.S. government officials, computer hackers and representatives from law enforcement and the communications industry converged in July on Las Vegas, Nevada, aiming to exchange ideas on how to make wireless communication more secure. The 13th DefCon computer security convention, however, identified more vulnerabilities in the use of wireless communication than it found countermeasures. As more and more corporate information is exchanged via cell phones and through wireless Internet connections, the risk that private information will be intercepted has grown exponentially. The threat comes in many forms, although cellular phones and wireless Internet connections are among the most serious. Sensitive or confidential information gained from either of these systems can result in a serious compromise of a company's operations. Signals from analog cell phones — and from their in-home cousins, cordless phones — are so easy to intercept that even an amateur with an inexpensive scanner can do it. Digital cell phone signals, although more difficult to intercept, also are vulnerable when an adversary has the know-how. Unsecured wireless data networks in homes, offices, hotel rooms, coffee shops and airports — and in the near future, airplanes — are also a privacy and security vulnerability. Email or other files transmitted via a wireless hookup can be viewed. More significantly, hackers can use the wireless link to break into the system. Hotels use infrared networks in cable TV and in web TV Internet hookups. So, if an executive is using the TV to read email or download files, the confidential data can easily be intercepted by hackers. The executive's choice of television program also can be monitored and, if compromising in any way, used as a blackmail weapon. A hacker using only a laptop and a USB TV tuner also can charge goods and services to a guest's room. Executives traveling abroad are increasingly vulnerable to host-government surveillance. Any sensitive information obtained could affect a company's ability to do business in the country. Corporate competitors also would have a stake in intercepting an executive's wireless Internet and cell phone signals, particularly when sensitive information is transmitted. Non-competitors — such as insider traders — could use compromised information to speculate on the stock market before the information is officially released. Criminals also have a reason to obtain sensitive or private information in this manner, either to sell information gleaned from an executive's computer, or to use the contents for purposes of blackmail. Kidnappers could use the information to learn of the executive's movements — and plan abductions. STRATFOR has often pointed out the need to safeguard personal privacy. Although the wireless age has made life — and business — easier in many respects, it also has created more security risks. The information obtained through the careless use of wireless communications can be used by criminals, paparazzi, corporate competitors and identity thieves.

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