Businesses using wireless computer networks in Northern Ireland are leaving themselves wide open to hackers, a computer expert has warned.
The cost of wireless technology is falling, making it more accessible
University of Ulster lecturer Kevin Curran warned that lack of network security among many companies could allow hackers to connect to their systems, surfing the net for free, or even accessing confidential business information.
He said he and a colleague were able to penetrate 15 company networks in Londonderry in one afternoon and discovered another five which could have been hacked with little effort.
Mr Curran, who lectures at the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems at the University's Magee campus, said he and a colleague used relatively cheap equipment to connect up to the companies' wireless networks.
The problem lies with companies installing the wireless network straight from the box leaving the access point unprotected by the security firewall.
"We haven't found one yet that could not be hacked", he added.
Another problem is the range of the wireless antenna employed by companies.
If it leaves too large a "footprint" around the company premises it can provide an access point for drive-by hackers.
Mr Curran urged companies using wireless networks to implement a number of basic security measures including:
Changing the default Service Set ID or network name and encryption keys.
Filter MAC addresses at the access point to allow access to known users only.
Enable wired equivalent privacy (WEP) at the highest level possible and change regularly.
Limit folder/file sharing to the minimum with password protection.
Install firewalls on all connected PCs.
"Hackers are the winners at present as around 40% of wireless networks do not modify original manufacturer default passwords and do not enable privacy measures," said Mr Curran.
"The software required to hack into systems is well known to hackers and is relatively easy to install."