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A Brief Guide to Securing Wireless Networks: Closing the Back Door by Aaron Sawyer on 13/05/08

In July of 2005, outside of a Marshals store near St. Paul, Minn, a team of unknown attackers used a laptop computer along with what is believed to have been a telescopic antenna to lock onto, monitor, and eavesdrop on a wireless local area network (WLAN) used inside the store. After discovering that weak WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption was being used, the team cracked the encryption scheme and began deciphering the wireless communications. As hand-held price checking devices, cash registers, and company computers communicated with one another, the attackers recorded their activities. The attackers also captured the usernames and passwords of employees as they logged in (Pereira, 2007).

After gleaning enough information from the wireless network traffic, the attackers focused their attacks on Marshal's parent company, TJX. Using the data that they had obtained, the group was able to break into TJX's central database, retrieving sensitive customer information, including Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, military identification numbers, and credit card numbers. The stolen information was soon available for sale by the attackers on password-protected Websites for identity thieves (Pereira, 2007).

Signs of the heist first surfaced in November of 2005, when bogus credit card purchases began to appear. It wasn't until December 18 that an auditor discovered oddities in card data, indicating that something strange had taken place. Investigators were unable to catch the attackers since they used the IP addresses of private individuals and public locations. Forrester Research estimates that TJX's expenses from the breach could exceed $1 billion in five years. These include expenses from consultants, upgrades, attorney fees, and increased marketing, but not for possible lawsuit liabilities (Pereira, 2007).

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