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Security A to Z: Wi-Fi

For all Wi-Fi has done to bring people online, it's also opened them up to potential risk.

Wireless Internet has been helping unchain workers from their desks and getting rural areas of the country online.

But it's not all a bed of roses.

As wireless networks proliferate and the use of Wi-Fi becomes more widespread, there are implications for security with regard to both the integrity of a corporate network that incorporates Wi-Fi, and the risk of using external Wi-Fi--via free hotspots and the like--to conduct corporate business when outside the office.

Earlier this year, fears arose over rogue Wi-Fi hotspots that could be used to steal corporate data from unwary wireless users. But corporate Wi-Fi networks can themselves be vulnerable to hackers if they do not use data encryption or a security key for the network.

According to research by RSA Security reported in May, 26 percent of wireless networks used by business networks in the City of London are unsecured, and 22 percent of access points still have default settings, making them vulnerable to hackers.

Intellectual property theft is another risk when it comes to unsecured Wi-Fi. Back in February, a leading London law firm warned that companies could face huge legal costs over unguarded use of public Wi-Fi networks, saying: "(England's) hotels and waiting rooms are full of people rummaging through the contents of each other's laptops."

On the hardware side, Wi-Fi has also proved a bit of a thorn in the side of computer makers. A vulnerability in the Apple AirPort driver software shipped with wireless cards for PowerBooks and iMacs was identified earlier this month. And last month, Apple owned up to a trio of flaws that could allow Macs to be hijacked over Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, at the start of this year, Microsoft admitted that there is a flaw in the way Windows handles Wi-Fi connections.

Natasha Lomas of Silicon.com reported from London.