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8/2/2005
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When Networking Wirelessly, Beware The Microwave

It turns out that interference, and not hacking, was the biggest threat to the network at the Defcon show, one participant says.

The biggest wireless threat at the recent DefCon conference for hackers didn't come from individual hackers trying to break into wireless network but, rather, came from items like microwave ovens, a company specializing in wireless LAN security said Tuesday.

"The wireless attacks we saw -- jamming, de-authentication, denial-of-service, MAC spoofing, fake and soft APs --were to be expected, particularly at a hacker conference," Bruce Hubbert, an AirMagnet engineer who attended DefCon, said in a company statement. "We were more surprised to find that an abundance of Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, 802.11 frequency-hopping devices and Web cameras were more effective at knocking out the conference's wireless network."

That's because those devices created radio frequency interference that made access difficult at times. Perhaps not surprisingly, AirMagnet sells a line of spectrum analyzers and wireless LAN monitoring products.

The company said that one surprise was that it detected the use of a jamming device that worked in the 5 GHz band used by 802.11a devices. It noted that a selling point of 802.11a has long been that it is less prone to interference than the 2.4 GHz band used by other Wi-Fi devices.

Hubbert said that some of the newest wireless applications will be hurt most by this type of interference.

"Voice-over-IP and video are far less tolerant of interference than data traffic," Hubbert said. "These interference issues will need to be better addressed by the industry."

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