McMaster UniversityMcMaster University Retirees Association (MURA)

Wireless home networks - some words of caution, Winter 2008

January 30, 2008 8:33 PM | Anonymous

- by Marianne Van der Wel

A wireless home network can provide convenience in homes with:

  • more than one computer
  • printers and scanners that support wireless technology
  • a laptop computer you want to use in different locations in the home.

But wireless convenience introduces security concerns. Wireless network activity is broadcasted like radio waves. So, without proper protection, anyone close to your home such as a neighbour or a person parked nearby can use your “air time”. Even worse, people with enough know-how can read your online activity and get into your computer. Your passwords, online banking activity, personal emails, etc. are at risk of being seen and copied by an outsider.

Most home wireless networks use hardware called a router which is slightly slower than high speed internet. The wireless range is about 100 feet. A new wireless standard coming on the market, designed to be faster, has an even longer range.

While no wireless network is as secure as a hardwired one, you can protect your computer and personal information on a wireless network.

How? Use encryption! Encryption is basically a formula that turns ordinary data into “secret code”.

One thing you need to know if you are installing a wireless home network is that encryption is not automatically set up when a wireless router is installed. It must be done as one of the installation steps, or as a retrofit for an already existing wireless system.

Some types of encryption provide better protection than others because they are more difficult to decode. The recommended encryption standard available today is WPA [WiFi Protected Access]. When WPA is selected during setup of the router, you will have to supply a key. The longer the key you choose, the more difficult it will be for anyone to “crack” the encryption. The older encryption standard, WEP [Wired Equivalency Privacy], is fairly easy to crack and not recommended.

Below are some web sites that explore this field further:

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