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Tips on Securing Your Wireless Network

How do wireless networks work?

As the name suggests, wireless networks, sometimes called Wi-Fi, allow you to connect to the internet without relying on wires. If your home, office, airport or even local coffee shop has a wireless connection, you can access the network from anywhere that is within the wireless area.

Wireless networks rely on radio waves rather than wires to connect computers to the internet. A transmitter, known as a wireless access point or gateway, is wired into an internet connection. This provides a "hot spot" that transmits the connectivity over radio waves. Hotspots have identifying information, including an item called an SSID, that allows computers to locate them. Computers that have a wireless card and have permission to access the wireless frequency can take advantage of the network connection. Some computers may automatically identify open wireless networks in a given area, while others may require that you locate and manually enter information such as the SSID.

What security threats are associated with wireless networks?

Because wireless networks don't require a wire between a computer and the internet connection, it's possible for attackers who are within range to hijack or intercept an unprotected connection. A practice known as war driving involoves individuals equipped with a computer, wireless card and a GPS device driving through areas in search of wireless networks and identifying the specific coordinates of a network location. This information is then usually posted online.

What can you do to minimize the risks to your wireless network?

  • Change default passwords.
  • Restrict access. Only allow authorized users to access your network.
  • Encrypt data on your network. WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) both encrypt information on wireless devices. Encrypting data prevents anyone who might be able to access your network from viewing your data.
  • Protect your SSID. To avoid outsiders easily accessing your network, avoid publicizing your SSID. Consult your user documentation to see if you can change the default SSID to make it more difficult to guess.
  • Install a firewall. While it's good practice to install a firewall on your network, you should also install a firewall directly on your wireless devices. Attackers who can directly tap into your wireless network may be able to circumvent your network firewall- a host- based firewall will add an extra layer of protection.
  • Maintain your anti-virus software.