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Ensure Security on Your Wireless Network

If you’re adding a wireless network to your home or office, security should be your first consideration before you send a single packet over the airwaves. First, if you’re shopping for wireless hardware, make sure that it supports the WPA2 standard:

  • Do the WPA2. WPA2 (blissfully short for Wi-Fi Protected Access revision 2) is a form of encryption that acts as your main defense against outside intrusion. Without the proper key (or, in human jargon, the proper password), a hacker is faced with a tough decoding job.

    The 256-bit WPA2 standard is the most common these days, and it does a creditable job of keeping your data secure. Choose hardware that supports the WPA2 standard whenever possible, and make sure that WPA2 is enabled when you install the device. (Note that devices older than three or four years may not support WPA2.)

    Make your WPA2 key as long as allowed by your hardware, and also use the same common sense that you use when choosing your Internet passwords. Keys should be completely random. Don’t use your middle name or your Social Security number, and remember to mix letters and numbers.

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After you configure your wireless network, here are the security guidelines you should follow:

  • Use virtual private networking (VPN) for extra security. VPN is a hard nut for an outsider to crack. When security is all-important, set up a VPN session.

  • Secure your SSID. Your SSID (service set identifier) is, essentially, the name for your wireless access point (WAP) or base station. Change your SSID immediately when you install your wireless base station or access point, making sure that you configured your system so that your SSID isn’t broadcast to the outside world.

    (You have to configure your wireless connections manually; your WAP or base station doesn’t show up automatically when your PC is in range.) Determining your SSID is the first step in hacking your wireless network. After you turn off the broadcast of your SSID, it’s practically impossible for an outsider to guess that your SSID is Bullwinkle007 (or something similar).

  • Change your access point or base station password. Naturally, you also don’t want anyone to be able to guess the password that secures your wireless access point or base station, so change that hardware password to something unique.

If anyone asks you to jump in his vehicle for a bit of “war driving,” you’ll understand why wireless security is so important. War driving occurs when hackers rig their cars with laptop PCs, equipped with a wireless network cards and cheap, omnidirectional antennas, and then drive around neighborhoods in their towns looking for unsecured wireless networks.

When easy pickings are found, the hacker can use any broadband connection that’s hooked up to that network (read that as “free Internet connection”) or — much worse — haul away copies of the shared files and documents found on that network.

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