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What Should I Know about Wireless Network Security?

Wireless router.
It's important to secure a wireless network to reduce the chances of being infected by a virus or other malware.
A WPA key can be used to secure a wireless network.
Article Details
  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Wireless network security is easily put in place using software packaged with the wireless router. It will encrypt all communications on the local network, and will require a password to gain access to the network.

Current routers should come with software that includes second generation WiFi® Protected Access (WPA) security, known as WPA2. Researchers Erik Tews and Martin Beck partially cracked first generation WPA in November 2008. A prior standard, known as Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP), is no longer considered secure.

A router controls traffic between computers on the local network, and also between the local network and Internet. A broadband modem can be built into the router, or the modem can be separate, connected to the router via an Ethernet cable. Online access is not necessary in a local area network (LAN), but sharing an Internet account is one primary reason for installing a LAN.

In a wireless network each computer on the LAN communicates with the router via radio broadcasts that permeate the immediate area. A LAN broadcast might extend up to 300 feet (~100m) for a 802.11g network, and up to 600 feet (~200m) for a 802.11n network. The “g” and “n” designate different protocols or standards, with the “n” flavor being newer than “g” and more robust.

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If wireless network security is absent, an interloper eavesdropping on the broadcast can easily trap any files shared across the LAN. The only transmissions that would be unreadable are direct links between a computers and a secure website on the Internet, as this data would travel encrypted between those two points.

To improve security and privacy, all network traffic between each computer on the LAN and the router can be encrypted using WPA2. With the entire network encrypted, an eavesdropper would be able to see that a network was present, but would not have the credentials to log on to the network. If the interloper were to trap broadcast data packets from such a LAN, they would be in unreadable cipher.

Wireless network security is not only important for protecting privacy, it has other advantages. It prevents hitchhikers from using the LAN for their own purposes, consuming bandwidth and slowing the LAN. It also prevents illegal activity on the LAN by strangers who might use it to download illicit materials, engage in remote attacks, or launch malware. Since setting up wireless network security is a trivial matter, there’s no good reason not to do it.

Within the router’s software there will be a clear path to WPA2 and its settings. Following the instructions includes creating a password for logging into the network. This password will be used in the network configuration menus of every computer on the LAN so that the computer will supply the stored password to the router automatically, allowing access to the network without user intervention. The password should be secure, using small and large case letters, numbers, and other characters.

It is important to note that wireless network security like WPA2 provides LAN encryption only, not Internet encryption. If a request is made to the Internet, for example, that request travels encrypted from the computer in the LAN to the router, but once the router decrypts the request to read it, it sends it on to the Internet unencrypted. The only encryption that takes place between the router and Internet is when a computer is connected to a secure website that provides point-to-point encryption.

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