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Wireless Network Security

We look at why it's essential to secure your wireless network as well as some of the most effective options for protecting your network and its sensitive data.

A wireless network can open up a whole new world of opportunities and extend access to information for your family or your company well beyond the traditional confines of a PC tethered to a power outlet and Ethernet connection.  Unfortunately, an unprotected wireless network can also open up your sensitive private information to a whole new world of ill-intentioned opportunists. In this Webopedia.com reference we'll look at why it's essential to secure your wireless network as well as some of the most effective options for protecting your network and its sensitive data.

Securing a Wireless Network

Securing a Wireless Network

There are many important reasons to  secure your wireless network. For starters, do you really want to make it easy for Wi-Fi eavesdroppers to check out what Web sites you or others on your network are viewing? And if that doesn't sound all that bad, how about having your Internet connection used for sending or receiving illegal information like pirated software, music, or even pornography?

An unprotected network makes it much easier for anyone with less than positive intentions access shared files and resources on networked computers and servers as well as obtain log-in information from Websites and mail accounts. The good news is that all of the damage that can be done to a home or business wireless network can be prevented by taking just a few minutes to properly secure the network.

Wireless Network Encryption

Wireless Network Encryption

The most popular method for securing a wireless network is to implement encryption, which protects the real-time traffic of the network while also preventing unauthorized access to the data residing on the network's computers and servers.  Several types of wireless network encryption are available, with the most frequently used methods being Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and two versions of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2).

Of these methods, WEP is the oldest and least secure, and almost all wireless experts advise utilizing WPA or WPA2 instead unless your router or specific network resources lack support for either of the newer encryption standards.

It's relatively quick and simple to add encryption to your network through your router's admin interface, but the process differs from router to router, so you'll want to consult your router's documentation or do a quick Web search for instructions specific to your router.  Once you've enabled encryption on your router and created an encryption key, you'll need to provide each computer or resource that will be connecting wirelessly to the network with the key.

More Wireless Security Options

While implementing an encryption method such as WPA is a critical start for securing your wireless network, it's important to not stop there. Using multiple security methods makes it much more difficult for unauthorized access to your wireless network while also minimizing the risk of compromised data. Once you've experienced how quick and simple it is to add WPA or a similar encryption method to your wireless network, consider adding additional measures that are also relatively easy to implement.

Since many routers ship with default SSIDs (the public name for a wireless network), one popular option for additional security is changing the default SSID of your router. You can also disable SSID broadcasting, which makes it much more difficult for others to find and connect to your network.  Finally, by implementing MAC address filtering you can restrict access to specific computers and network resources that have previously been authorized to connect to the network.

This reference should serve as a solid starting point for wireless network security and  will help you understand the need for security as well as some of the more popular options available to you or your company.

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal is a freelance writer, covering business and Internet technology for more than a decade. She is also managing editor of Webopedia.com.

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