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Seven Steps to a Secure Wireless Network

Wireless networks, often abbreviated to "Wi-Fi", allow PCs, laptops and other devices to "talk" to each other using a short-range radio signal. However, to make a secure wireless network you will have to make some changes to the way it works once it's switched on.

The signal of any short-range radio transmission can be picked up by any device in range that is tuned to the same frequency. This means that anyone with a wireless PC or laptop in range of your wireless network may be able to connect to it unless you take precautions.

If this happens then your network and PC are vulnerable to any or all of the following:

Freeloaders

Most wireless networks are used to share a broadband Internet connection. A "freeloader" may connect to your network and use your broadband connection without your knowledge or permission. This could have an impact on your own use. You may notice your connection slows down as it shares the availability of the Internet with more users.

Many home Internet services have limits to the amount of data you can download per month - a "freeloader" could exceed this limit and you find your Internet bill charged for the extra amounts of data. More seriously, a "freeloader" may use your Internet connection for some nuisance or illegal activity. The Police may trace the Internet connection used for such activity it would lead them straight back to you.

Eavesdropping

As information is transmitted an "eavesdropper" may connect to your wireless network and view all the information as it passes by. This is entirely undetectable by the user as the "eavesdropper" is only listening not transmitting. Such sensitive information as bank account details, credit card numbers, usernames and passwords may be recorded.

Hacking

Even when the security features of a wireless network have been switched on unless these features are set-up correctly then anyone in range can hack in to the network. All home wireless network routers have a standard username and password for the administration of the network. All a hacker has to do is go through the list of standard usernames and passwords until he gains access. A hacker may then use your network for any of the above or gain access to your PC - your firewall may not prevent him because, as he is connected to your network, he is within the trusted zone.

Most wireless network equipment, when it comes out of the box, is not protected against these threats by default. This means you have to configure the network yourself to make it a secure wireless network.

How to secure a wireless network

Although all wireless equipment marked as 802.11 will have standard features such as encryption and access control each manufacturer has a different way it is controlled or accessed. This means that the advice that follows may seem a bit technical because we can only tell you what you have to do not how to do it. You should read the manual or help files that came with your equipment in order to see how to make a secure wireless network.

1. Use encryption.

This is the bedrock of any secure wireless network and means that the data that passes over the wireless can only be decoded with the correct system of encryption and the correct password. Currently there are three methods of encryption for wireless networks usually referred to by their acronyms: WPA2, WPA-PSK and WEP. Each method can only be used if all the equipment on the network has the capability.

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