With wireless WIFI devices flying off the shelves, it seems that this is one of the few technologies that is currently "hot" with both consumers and business users today. While the benefits of running a wireless network are many, an issue often overlooked is that of security.

When you implement a WIFI network, you should realize that you are transmitting all of your network communications and data through standard radio frequencies, just like using a cordless phone. Because there is nothing inherently secure in this use of technology, it's important to realize that special security considerations need to be addressed to protect your data and your privacy.

Fortunately, any device that broadcasts WIFI signals will also include various security features. However, these security options are usually not enabled by default, so you will need to open and read the manuals that came with your equipment in order to secure your wireless network.

The most common security options and steps are as follows:

  1. Change Passwords - While this advice applies to any network device (wireless or not) it's especially important with WIFI equipment that you immediately change the default "log in" and "password" for your for wireless base stations and other devices because an intruder does not need a physical connection to your network in order to attempt to gain access. Too many users leave both of these set to "Admin" (or whatever their brand's default login and password originally was) and these are obviously well know among those who might endeavor to break into your network.
  2. Change Your SSID (Service Set ID) - Simply put, the SSID is the name you assign to the wireless network that you create. Windows will usually establish standard defaults that are very easy to guess, such as MSHOME or MSOFFICE. Be sure to choose anything other than these defaults. It's also best that you don't select an obvious choice that can be easily guessed, such as your last name or an acronym based on your company's initials.
  3. Enable WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) - While most all wireless equipment supports WEP encryption, in order to make configuring a WIFI network as easy as possible, it's seldom enabled by default. Enabling encryption will also slow down the speed of your wireless communications somewhat, and WEP is admittedly not the ultimate in security. However, any encryption is better than none at all. Additionally, most WIFI networks using encryption will still send and receive data faster than most broadband Internet connections so the slight reduction in speed will not likely be noticed.
  4. Upgrade to WPA (WIFI Protected Access) - Most newer WIFI devices support this more advanced security encryption standard and many older WIFI devices can be upgraded to support WPA as well. If you have any existing WIFI equipment, be sure to check the manufacture's web site to find out if downloadable patches are available. While WPA should be enabled whenever possible, each piece of your wireless network must support the standard. So, if you have even a single device that does not, then you'll either need to upgrade it, replace it, or stick with using the WEP encryption discussed above.
  5. Limit MAC (Media Access Control) addresses - Rather than allowing just any WIFI device to access your network using only the appropriate login and password, (which can be guessed, shared or stolen) you may also choose to specify access by individual devices. This can be done by limiting access to your WIFI network by MAC address as these are somewhat like serial numbers. While this does create the additional time invested in manually adding the MAC for each computer you wish to allow on your network, the result is that you can further protect your WIFI network so that a user must not only have the correct login and password, but also attempt access from a specific WIFI antenna.

While none of these security steps will absolutely guarantee protection from a network intrusion, the more of them you implement, the safer your WIFI network will be.

As a practical matter, because so many installed networks implement absolutely none of these precautions, making your WIFI network just a little bit tougher to crack than your neighbor's is often all the protection you'll really need.

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Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale