Is Unauthorized Wireless Always Bad?

Think before you pull the cable on that rogue access point

Its so easy to add a wireless access point. And at $60 to $100, an access point is even within my "purchase authority." The stage is set for the increasing appearance of "rogue" access points.

Discovery of a rogue access point usually leads to a swift, simple response: disconnection with lecture. The access point is uncabled from the wired network and a harried, front-line IT staffer chastises the installer. The reason given for this action usually starts and ends with "security."

But is this the right response?

Before pulling the plug on the next unauthorized access point, take a moment to ask a few simple questions.

First, can the access point be centrally managed? Of course, top-of-the-line products like Ciscos Aironet product family or Symbol Technologies Mobius wireless system can be brought into the management fold. Although these products are usually more expensive ($500 plus), if a department has installed them, the management features in these products might make it more desirable to incorporate them into the legitimate IT infrastructure.

Second, what was the motivation for the wireless installation? If departments or even individual employees installed and used a wireless LAN, its worth finding out why they did it.

If they want convenient network access while in a conference room attending a meeting (yeah, yeah, theres a jack in the wall, but does it ever get used?), then why not leave the access point in place? If the wireless equipment cant be incorporated into the existing management framework, then replace it with corporate-approved gear.

Third, adopt and disseminate a statement on the appropriate use of wireless technology. The low cost and convenience are going to drive the technology into the organization. Soon, its going to be hard to buy a laptop that isnt equipped with a wireless card. Wireless networks in the home will show people in practice how much nicer it is to just plunk the laptop on the coffee table and surf while watching TV.

Better to adopt the attitude that if wireless technology must come, its far better to embrace it with corporate guidelines that help people understand appropriate use. Publish an approved wireless equipment list and require that the equipment come under the management of IT so that security and user access policies can be appropriately maintained.

Otherwise, stand by and prepare to be boarded.

Did you install wireless for yourself, but tell your users not to? Tell me about it at