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Secure your wireless network

Wi-Fi is convenient and it need not be an open invitation for trouble.

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: November 2, 2008

In the light of recent events where terrorists have allegedly used unsecure Wi-Fi networks to send e-mails, you can take some relatively simple steps to protect your connection from being misused. Wi-Fi or Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN), or, to give it its technical name, 802.11 wireless protocol, is still extremely convenient, both in office and home, given that all modern laptops and high-end mobile devices have receivers to pick up these signals. The latest 802.11n specification is also quite fast and supports the higher broadband speeds that come into the WLAN router.

You can secure your connection by following these three simple steps. However, keep in mind that these are only tips and much like a car security system, only offer a slightly enhanced level of protection. A determined hacker can still break into any network without enterprise levels of security.

Service Set Identifier (SSID)
Service Set Identifier (SSID)
Disable SSID broadcasting
Most Wi-Fi routers broadcast their network name using the Service Set Identifier (SSID) to the world every few seconds, which makes it easy for people to move from one wireless access area to another—but people rarely change the network’s default name. Disabling the SSID might help if your access device—mobile or computer—usually stays in the signal area.

Constantly moving in and out of the Wi-Fi signal could lead to slow or dropped connections. But you also must keep in mind that many modern devices can detect and access ‘Hidden WLAN’ networks where the SSID is disabled.

Don’t keep your Wi-Fi Router near a window or the outside wall of your house
This is not a hardware tip, but simple common sense. A Wi-Fi router does not send an uni-directional signal (though some modern routers do). A Wi-Fi router placed near a window or outside wall will leak signals to the world, which can be picked up by any Wi-Fi-capable device and misused.

Wi-Fi Router
Wi-Fi Router
Use WPA-PSK authentication
WPA stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access and the PSK stands for Pre-shared Key and this is the best form of encrypted security for your network. Do not use the more outdated WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) protocol since that is relatively easy for hackers to crack. Both systems use a simple alphanumeric password. The PSK means that you are your network’s best security, as only you know the password; anyone else wanting to access the network needs to ask you for the password.

Read your Wi-Fi manufacturer’s manual to find out how you can set up a WPA secured WLAN network. It is a very simple process and as always, keep your password secure.

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