Wireless networks are becoming extremely popular,
both in the home and the workplace. The freedom these
allow can be very beneficial and save on costly wiring,
but they can also pose a security risk.
Wireless networks have already started to become one of the fastest growing elements in the computer 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 very cheaply and easily access another computer on the network from anywhere in the house, or even in the yard.
Many people, especially home users, buy the equipment needed for a wireless network, plug it in and start surfing from the deck, spare room or even a favorite lounge chair. Very often, the user is so caught up with the wow factor that he doesn't stop to think, 'what if?' For example, if you are living in a neighborhood with houses close by, your neighbors could very easily buy a wireless network card for about $50 and surf the internet on your connection.
Even more disturbing is a disreputable person could
also browse around your computer, read your documents,
financial details, passwords, letters and emails.
Given that most wireless access points have a range of approximately 150 yards, anyone with a laptop or even a PDA could feasibly park their car nearby and do the same.
It is disturbing enough that someone could gain access to a home computer and read through emails or letters, but when a wireless connection is implemented in an office environment the stakes get much higher.
There are several ways you can protect a wireless network from the unwanted intruder, whether at work or home. Most of these security 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 these two things, you can make life extremely difficult for a hacker or other unscrupulous person to gain access to your wireless network.
As a final precaution, a username and password should be set up to access the router web panel. This means that, should someone get into your house or office and have experience with your particular router (since there are only a couple of major brands on the market), they can't simply log in and copy down your WEP codes and network information for later use.
Next month - Cable vs. DSL vs. Satellite.
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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