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Wireless Security

Wireless network are inherently less secure than wired networks. This is because it is easier for someone to "sniff" the traffic over a wireless network as there is no physical barrier to where the traffic goes. It's simply floating through the air. There are, however, a few practices that can make working wirelessly a bit more secure.

Connect to a secure network.

Wireless networks come in all types. Some are secure, some encrypt the traffic, and some are completely open. It's the completely open networks that you need to be careful of. These networks allow anyone to connect to them at any time without encrypting the traffic and without requiring a password. It is much easier for someone to sniff out the traffic on one of these networks than on an encrypted network. Here at PC, we offer 2 wireless networks. PC-Secure is our secure network, using 802.1x for authentication, which allows only people with a valid PC network account to connect, and WPA (WiFi Protected Access) for encryption. PC-Guest is an open network, allowing anyone to connect.

Do not use wireless networks to transmit sensitive or confidential data.

Because traffic over wireless networks is more easily sniffed, it is easier for someone to gain personal and sensitive information over these networks. It is for this reason that you should perform any transmission of sensitive and confidential data over a wired network. If you must do it over a wireless network, be sure the network is using some kind of encryption, preferably WPA or WPA2.

Turn off your computer's wireless connection when not in use.

When you are not using your computer for wireless, you should turn off the wireless functionality of your computer. Most modern computers have a button or switch that allows you to turn it off. You can do this with an Apple computer using the Wi-Fi icon in the Menu Bar. While your computer may not be connected to a wireless network, it is still sending out a signal that may allow people to connect directly to your computer. Turning off wireless has an additional benefit of increasing your battery life.

Secure your own wireless access point or router.

If you have your own wireless access point or router, there are ways to make sure your network stays more secure.

Consult the manual that came with your router or use the help functions within the administration pages to learn how to adjust these settings. All routers have different types of configurations. You should never use the default settings of your router as they generally create an open network with a default SSID and default administration password.

Change the default password for the administration of the router or access point.

Most routers come with a default password. If someone knows what type of router you have, they can easily find the default password online. Use a secure password for this.

Use encryption on your network.

Most routers allow you to use WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), WPA (WiFi Protected Access), or WPA2 to encrypt the traffic on your wireless network. WPA2 is the strongest encryption, while WEP is easy to crack and considered fairly insecure.

Disable the broadcasting of your SSID.

Wireless networks can have the SSID, or name of the network, broadcast, which allows the network to be "seen" by wireless devices, or hidden, which prevents other wireless devices from seeing that the network is there. This helps prevent unwanted people from connecting to your network because they cannot see that it exists.

Change the SSID of your network.

Make the SSID, or name of the network, something different from the default. Even if it is hidden, the default names are widely known and easy to connect to. Use something unique for the SSID of your network.

Allow access to your network to only certain computers.

Most routers allow you to set a list of filters that will only allow those specific computers to connect to the network. They usually filter by MAC address (or physical address, or hardware address). This prevents any computers not on the list from connecting to your network.

Use a personal firewall, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware software.

Whenever you are connected to the Internet, but especially when you are connected to a wireless network, make sure you have security software enabled on your computer. These firewalls should be set to deny any incoming connections when you are connected to a wireless network to prevent other computers from connecting to your computer. Your anti-virus and anti-spyware software should be kept up-to-date.

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