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Safer Wireless Networking

ireless networking has come a long way. Computers were first connected without wires back in 1971 and since then, things have changed drastically. Wireless technology has become cheaper, faster, and more secure. However, there are many stories out there about networks getting hacked and people being able to access your wireless network from outside your home. Following these steps will ensure that this doesn’t happen to you.

First it’s important to know that all wireless routers and access points will come with security features turned off. It is imperative that the first step you take is to configure the router. Following the included instructions for your particular router, you should enter the configuration utility and look for a setting called SSID. The ‘Service Set IDentifier’ should be changed. By default it is usually the name of the router manufacturer, but you could change it to your family name or something similar. This name is used to identify your particular wireless network and will help distinguish it from other networks that may overlap. With the power of wireless getting stronger all the time, it is not uncommon to actually be able to see your neighbours network. It is a common myth that you don’t want to broadcast the SSID. This is untrue. Broadcasting the ID will make your life easier with configuring each client that accesses the network and does little to protect the security of the network.

The next step is to enable security. Depending on the capabilities of your router and the wireless cards or adapters in your computer, you should look for “WEP” and “WPA”. “WEP” or Wired Equivalent Privacy will be more common although it has been known to be compromised. “WPA” is an all or nothing thing, so if your router supports it but all your adapter cards don’t, then choose 128-bit “WEP”. You will be required to create a ‘key’ that all devices in the network that you wish to have access will require. “WEP” uses something called a pass phrase that is like a password. It is used to create a long string of letters and numbers that will be required to use the network. Choose a phrase that is not easily guessed and you will have to enter the 52 digits that come from this phrase into each computer that has a wireless adapter.

“WPA” or WiFi Protected Access is a newer, more secure choice. If your router doesn’t support it, try downloading the latest firmware upgrade from the manufacturer. If given the choice, select TKIP as the algorithm that is used for security and choose what is called a Pre-Shared Key. This is a fancy name for a password. Just like the pass phrase in “WEP”, choose something that is not easily compromised.

Because “WPA” is newer, your operating system may not support it yet. If you are using Windows XP, Linux or Mac OSX you can find information about enabling “WPA” support here: http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Personal/G.Wilford/WiFi.html.

Following these steps will help to protect you from unwanted intrusions. If you have more than one computer networked in your home, you may want to consider an additional step. Most wireless routers have ports for hardwiring computers as well as connecting them wirelessly. If you have more than one computer connected with wire, considering adding an additional non-wireless router to the mix. By using the non-wireless router as your main connection to the Internet, and plugging your wireless router into it you are essentially creating two separate networks. This allows you to create file sharing and device sharing within your wired network without worrying about it being compromised through the wireless side.

Wireless networking is here to stay and is getting better all the time. With the new 802.11n standard coming soon and delivering four times the performance of 802.11g it looks like WiFi will become even more common. Spending a few minutes securing your network will allow you to work and play with peace of mind. Enjoy your freedom from wires.

Article Copyright ©2005 by Syd Bolton. Original publication date: 4/30/2005.
Reproduction requires permission, please e-mail for more information.

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