Last month, I am sure that wireless network equipment
could be found under many Christmas trees, and by now,
many local homes have gone wireless. A more chilling
fact is that, for most of these homes, their computers,
financial records and documents are now open to the world..
Wireless networks are one of the fastest-growing elements in the computer communications industry in recent years.
For home users, especially those with high-speed Internet connections and more than one computer, a wireless network can be extremely useful, saving hundreds of dollars that it would cost to have your house wired for a physical network. Laptops can cheaply and easily access another computer on the network from anywhere in the house or even in the yard.
Many users, both home and busineses, buy the wireless equipment, plug it in and start surfing from the deck, spare room or janitor's closet. Very often, people get so caught up with the 'wow' that they don't think, 'what if?' For example, if you live in a neighborhood with houses close by, your neighbors could very easily buy a $50 wireless network card and surf the internet on your connection.
Even more distressing is the fact that a disreputable person could also browse around your computer, read your documents, financial details, passwords, letters and e-mails. Given that most wireless transmitters have a range of approximately 150 yards, anyone with a laptop or even a PDA could conceivably park their car nearby and do the same.
Just recently, I was setting up a home wireless network for a client, and discovered around 5 totally open wireless networks in the area. If I were malicious, I could have wreaked havoc on several neighbors' computers.
It is disturbing enough that someone could access home computers and read e-mails or letters, but when wireless is used in office environments, the stakes get much higher.
There are a few ways you can protect a wireless network from the unwanted intruder, whether at work or home. Most of these measures are fairly easily implemented via a web browser based control panel. The router/access point manual will have instructions on how to access this, or you can call us and we can help you protect your wireless network.
The most common precaution is to use WEP (Wireless Equivalent Privacy). This is the best way to protect your Internet connection as well as any other computers on your network.
WEP is a security key-code which consists of a set of complex letters and numbers. These can be either 12 or 25 digits. The code can be entered manually at random or, for ease, can be generated by the administration panel from a word you type. For even more protection, there are four possible WEP keys you can use, each different.
Once the WEP key is set up, this code plus the key number you are using needs to be entered into any computer that is accessing the wireless network. Otherwise, the connection is locked and the network cannot be accessed.
Another thing that should be done is to disable the network ID (SSID) or network name. If this is not disabled, even though your network is locked by the WEP key, the name and frequency channel are being transmitted openly, giving a hacker a couple of places to start cracking at your system. With the name disabled, the network name and channel are invisible, so the network can only be accessed by someone who knows exactly where it is and what it's called.
By doing just these two things, you can make it extremely difficult for a hacker or other unscrupulous person to gain access to your wireless network.
As a final precaution, the default username and password to access the router web panel should be changed. Since there are only a couple of major wireless brands on the market, this means that, should someone with knowledge of your particular router get into your house or office, they can't simply log in and copy down your WEP codes and network information for later use.
I would like to wish our wonderful clients and
all of you health, happiness and prosperity
for the holiday season and in 2005.
Terry Young is the founder and CEO of Internet Marketing and Design,
the award winning web and multimedia design agency in Chesapeake.
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