What is a Rogue Access Point & How to Protect Against Them

What is a Rogue Access Point & How to Protect Against Them

A rogue access point is a wireless access point (AP) that has been installed on a network without the network administrator's authorization. 

These access points can be set up maliciously by attackers or innocently by employees seeking to bypass network restrictions or improve connectivity results. Regardless of intent, rogue APs can expose an organization to various security risks, making their detection and management critical.

In a Nile network, rogue access points can never be installed within the wired infrastructure given the campus zero trust approach as part of the Nile Access Service. Initially, all users and devices connected to the Nile network are isolated and considered untrusted until they are authenticated and authorized. This method prevents rogue access points from breaching the network given the strict authentication, device profiling and IT admin approval workflows. 

In a Nile network, every single port is secured and locked down by default until the new device connection is fully authorized. Nile's security structure constantly monitors the network for any unauthorized or suspicious devices, promptly alerting administrators and taking suitable action to mitigate the threat. This proactive approach ensures that rogue access points and devices are swiftly identified and isolated, preserving the network's integrity and security.

Dangers of rogue access points

Rogue APs significantly compromise Wi-Fi security. They create vulnerabilities within the network, allowing unauthorized users to bypass security measures and access sensitive data. Some specific dangers include:

Data breaches

A primary risk associated with rogue access points is the potential for data breaches. These unauthorized APs can provide a gateway for cybercriminals to enter a secure network. Once inside, attackers can access confidential information, leading to significant data loss, financial repercussions, and damage to the organization's reputation.

Spread of malware

Rogue APs open up networks to various forms of cyberattacks, including the distribution of malware. Attackers can exploit these points to inject malicious software into the network, which can spread rapidly, affecting not only the network's integrity but also compromising connected devices.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

These APs can be used to execute man-in-the-middle attacks. In this scenario, attackers intercept communication between a user and the network, potentially capturing sensitive data like login credentials and personal information. This interception compromises the confidentiality and integrity of the data being transmitted over the network. Guest networks are often a target of these attacks. Nile’s Secure Guest Service is an excellent option for those offering guest access.

Performance issues

Beyond security concerns, rogue APs can degrade the performance and reliability of the Wi-Fi network. They can cause interference and network congestion, leading to slower Internet speeds, higher latency, and a disruption of service for legitimate users.

Differences between rogue APs and evil twins

Rogue access points and evil twins are often confused, but they have distinct characteristics.

Rogue APs

As previously mentioned, a rogue access point is an unauthorized access point connected to a secure wireless network. It can be installed by someone within the organization, like an employee, without malicious intent, or by an attacker seeking unauthorized access to the network.

Evil twins

On the other hand, an evil twin is a malicious Wi-Fi access point that mimics a legitimate one. It is set up by a cybercriminal to deceive users into connecting, believing it to be a trusted network. Once connected, the attacker can intercept the data transmitted by end users or IoT devices, leading to security breaches.

The key difference lies in their intent and method of operation. Rogue APs are primarily about unauthorized access to the network, whereas evil twins are explicitly designed to deceive and exploit users and IoT devices.

How to detect a rogue AP

Detecting a rogue AP is crucial for maintaining robust Wi-Fi security. Here are several methods to effectively identify these rogue devices:

Network monitoring

Regular monitoring of the network can reveal the presence of unknown devices. Administrators should watch for unusual spikes in network traffic or devices trying to bypass network security protocols. Device profiling built into Nile’s Access Service and the ability to isolate each endpoint device connecting to the network are designed to help.

Physical checks

Conducting physical inspections of the network infrastructure can help identify unauthorized devices connected to the network. This includes checking for unfamiliar hardware in server rooms and work areas.

Wireless scanning tools

Using specialized wireless scanning tools can help detect rogue APs. These tools scan for Wi-Fi signals and identify devices that do not conform to the organization's naming conventions or security configurations.

Advanced security software

Implementing advanced security software capable of detecting anomalies and unauthorized APs in real-time is crucial. This software can alert administrators immediately when a rogue device is detected.

What are rogue clients?

Rogue clients are devices that connect to rogue APs, knowingly or unknowingly. These clients pose a threat to Wi-Fi security because they can be used to facilitate unauthorized access to the network, propagate malware, or engage in other malicious activities.

Rogue clients often exhibit behavior that differs from that of legitimate network devices. They may attempt to bypass network security protocols or connect to unauthorized access points.

Rogue clients can sometimes be identified by the following behavior:

  • Rogue clients often try to bypass network security protocols, which can be a clear sign of their malicious intent.
  • They frequently connect to unauthorized access points, indicating a deviation from standard network practices.
  • These clients may exhibit unusual network behavior, such as accessing restricted areas of the network or transferring large volumes of data unexpectedly.

When rogue clients connect to the network, they can compromise the security of other devices and data on the network. They also have the potential to disrupt network operations and degrade service quality for legitimate users. It is advised to look for network solutions that include host or endpoint isolation like Nile’s as part of their campus zero trust offering.

Preventing benign access points from being labeled as rogue

In an environment where security is paramount, benign APs can be mistakenly identified as rogue. This can lead to unnecessary disruptions and administrative challenges. To prevent this, here are a few key strategies:

1. Maintain accurate network maps and documentation

Maintaining up-to-date records of all authorized access points and their configurations helps in quickly distinguishing legitimate devices from rogue ones.

2. Use consistent naming and configuration management

Using standardized naming conventions and configurations for all network devices aids in easy identification and reduces the chances of false positives.

3. Conduct audits regularly

Conducting frequent audits and verification of the network setup ensures that all devices are accounted for and correctly classified.

Best practices for preventing rogue AP attacks

To safeguard against the threats posed by rogue APs, it's essential to adopt a comprehensive approach to network security. Here are some best practices:

Establish robust zero trust network security policies

Creating and enforcing strong network security policies is crucial. This includes defining clear rules for setting up new access points and managing existing ones.

Educate staff members

Educating employees about the risks associated with unauthorized network changes and the importance of adhering to security protocols can significantly reduce the risk of rogue APs.

Utilize advanced security technologies

Implementing advanced security technologies, such as intrusion detection systems and network access control, helps in the early detection and prevention of unauthorized access points.

Conduct regular security assessments

Performing regular security assessments of the network can identify vulnerabilities and ensure that security measures are up-to-date and effective.

Protecting against rogue access points on Wi-Fi

To effectively protect a Wi-Fi network from rogue APs, a multi-layered security approach is necessary. This involves several key actions:

Deploying Wi-Fi security measures

Enhancing Wi-Fi security protocols, such as using WPA3 and regularly updating passwords, adds an extra layer of protection against unauthorized access.

Utilizing network monitoring tools

Employing network monitoring tools can provide real-time insights into network activity, allowing for the swift detection and removal of rogue APs. Ensure the network infrastructure you choose includes built in WIPs/WIDs functionality like Nile’s Access Service and access points.

Regularly updating network infrastructure

Keeping the network infrastructure updated with the latest security patches and firmware updates is crucial in defending against the latest threats, including rogue APs. A common and standardized firmware version, which is a foundation of Nile’s Access Service, is a key component of our offering. Nile works with customers to ensure timely updates and security patches.

Completely eliminating rogue access points

Nile's Access Service was designed from the ground up with comprehensive campus zero trust principles and security practices, ensuring every network connection is isolated, authenticated and encrypted. With the addition of the latest MACsec encryption standards and WIDS technology that are integral part of a Nile network, you can rest easy knowing your organization stays protected from rogue device threats.

Discover how Nile’s campus zero trust approach can help you improve your network security posture across your campus and branch locations.

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