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Wireless Network Security

Learn about wireless network security and how it protects computers.

Wireless network security helps protect users' sensitive information. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Wireless network security helps protect users' sensitive information.

Wireless network security was once a field for computer geeks and large businesses. However, with more home users relying on wireless connections, security is an issue for anyone wanting to keep their files safe or their wireless connection protected. Household items such as laptops, video game consoles and some cell phones have wireless options. Wireless network security helps control a user's wireless connection from being hacked or discovered by other users. For example, a home with a wireless network runs the risk of being discovered by someone else in the neighborhood who can then use the connection for his or her computer. Every home user should utilize some basic security measures before operating a wireless network.

Why secure a wireless network?

According to Tech Genix, as of 2004, 60 to 70 percent of all wireless networks were insecure. But why is network security important for homes? Do home users really need to worry about security breaches as large corporations do? Yes. An unsecured wireless network allows anyone who understands how to leech off a connection or hack into a connection to do so. This means someone can use their neighbor's connection to download songs or movies, and hackers can get into a computer's hard drive using an unsecured wireless network.

Wireless network users who live in rural areas have less of a risk of having their connection intefered with, but users in large cities where many businesses and homes exist have a big risk of having their wireless network compromised. Some hackers or lechers will walk or drive around trying to find unsecured wireless connections. While a person must be within a certain proximity of a connection in order to use it, once a hacker knows the general location of an unsecured network, they can make an antennae that leeches a wireless network from miles away.

Illegal activity performed on the stolen wireless connection can be traced back to the owner and not to the person actually committing the crime. This puts anyone with an unsecured wireless network at risk of being falsely accused of a crime. According to Microsoft other risks of an unsecured wireless network include:

  • A slower Internet connection
  • The spreading of viruses or dangerous software from one user to another
  • Hackers gaining information such as log in names and passwords and monitoring Web sites visited by the user
  • Spam and other illegal activities performed using the stolen wireless connection

Wireless Encryption Security

Encryption is one of the main ways large corporations and businesses secure their wireless networks. Home users can also take advantage of wireless security with encryption. Encryption secures a network by mixing up the data so only networks with the encryption key can read the data.

Microsoft considers the original wireless encryption, the 64-bit Wired Equivalency Protection, commonly called WEP, outdated. Home users should avoid using this form of encryption since hackers can easily crack the code and gain access to the wireless network connection. There is 128-bit WEP encryption, but experienced hackers can still crack this encryption and gain access to the network.

The newer encryption is Wi-Fi Protected Access and WPA2, also called WPA-Personal. This encryption is more advanced than its predecessor, the WEP encryption. The WPA encryption comes equipped in Windows XP systems, while WPA2 comes in newer hardware but may need a downloaded Windows XP patch in order to use it. Computer users can check their computer systems to make sure that the router is compatible with the newer encryption. Systems that will support WPA or WPA2 should have this sort of encryption enabled for maximum security.

While WPA is the strongest, most secure wireless network security, WEP is still better than no protection. Users shouldn't disable WEP protection just because it can be cracked. In a large area, any hacker looking for a wireless network connection will most likely utilize an unsecure connection rather than trying to crack the code on any encryption. Another plus for WEP encryption is that it should work with almost any router, old or new. To bolster security of WEP encryption change the encryption string every week, suggests Ars Technica.

Other Ways to Secure a Wireless Network

Practically Networked states that with the low cost of wireless networks, anyone can afford to set up a wireless connection. This also means many people are plugging in the network and using it, without any thought to security. Every wireless network user should integrate some security measures before using the connection.

Secure the wireless router with a new password. The router is the piece of equipment that allows for the wireless network connection. This equipment comes with a standard default password. Many times, these passwords are simple words used among many different router manufacturers. By changing the password from the standard-issued password, a user can increase security. The password allows access to the router, including being able to make changes on the configurations.

Turn off the broadcasting of the service set identifier or SSID. This identification helps users set up wireless connections, but it's also visible to anyone in a close proximity who is looking for an unsecured wireless network. Users should select the option that disables the continuous broadcasting of the SSID.

Use MAC filtering. People using more than one MAC computer can find out the address of each computer and enter it into the router. This can help prevent unwanted intruders by routing only specific MAC addresses to that router.

Look for a router that allows the user to reduce the amount of signal emitted from the router. This decreases the risk of someone reading the signal from miles away. Make sure remote administration is disabled. Many routers have the ability to be remotely administered from the Internet. If the remote administrator lets the user signify an IP address then security increases somewhat, but there is still a chance of anyone being able to use a remotely administered wireless network. It's best to turn off this feature when not in use.

While there are no guaranteed security measures, by integrating a variety of measures such as encryption, new passwords and signal reduction, home users can bolster their wireless network security.

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