When wireless technology rocketed into the home-networking scene a few years back, security wasn't much of a concern. Instead, people were still fascinated by the magical ability to connect to networks and the Internet without wires. Then, the hacking began, and the term "drive by" took on a sinister new meaning.
Today, with 802.11g (or Wireless-G) firmly entrenched as the wireless networking standard, we've got better security options than we did just a year ago. Also, newer OSs—such as Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) or Mac OS X—make setting up secure wireless networking easier than ever.
If you're still using older wireless networking gear that isn't compatible with 802.11g or with the wireless security standard known as Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), it's time to upgrade—plain and simple. Don't cry about cost, either: Wireless products are cheaper than ever, and its possible to purchase wireless Access Points (APs) or wireless-enabled routers for less than $100 (often less than $50), and wireless cards for PCs or notebooks for well under $50.
WPA is more secure than the previous wireless security standard, Wireless Equivalency Protocol (WEP), because it regularly changes the encryption key that protects wireless network traffic. With WEP, the encryption key rarely changes, giving hackers time to attack your network, break the encryption, and gain access to your valuable data. WPA isn't perfect—and, as you might expect, future wireless security technologies are even more secure—but it's a huge improvement over WEP.
Also improved in WPA is its use of a passkey (like a password). So you might set up a simple and memorable passkey with letters and numbers, just as you do for your PC password. With WEP, you must enter an arcane sequence of 10 or 26 characters (depending on whether you're using 40-bit or 128-bit WEP).
You can perform other configuration settings to better secure your wireless network, of course, including not broadcasting your wireless network's Server Set ID (SSID), which is the name of your wireless network. But we'll look at that in future issues of Connected Home EXPRESS. For now, get your wireless networking technology up-to-date and turn on WPA. Otherwise, just turn off wireless: You're an accident waiting to happen.