Protecting Your Wireless Network

Safe surfing

Sure, it's convenient, but is wireless internet really worth the potential pitfalls? Indeed, many companies completely avoid Wi-Fi because it's simply not safe, and since corporate entities generally own the networks worth breaking into for hackers, some of the big names simply go about their business with traditional Local Area Networks (LANs).

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**Caption: Protect your network to ensure safe web surfing

With that said, the most convenient place for Wi-Fi is actually in the home, where one's PC is less likely to be cracked by a mischievous hacker. However, it a) isn't out of the question, and b) the home is the realm where people are least familiar with the technology or the tools available to protect themselves from outside threats.

Bar the Access Point

The key to any home Wi-Fi network is an Access Point, which is like the drawbridge into your castle, or PC. When you first set up your home wireless network, including router [Router Guide], card [Network Card Guide], etcetera, your system is actually completely open.

**Caption: Follow these steps to access your wireless security options in Windows XP

In other words, your Wi-Fi Access Point is unsecured, meaning a neighbor could open his or her:

  • "Control Panel",
  • "Network and Internet Connections",
  • "Network Connections",
  • "Wireless Network Connection",
  • "View Wireless Networks".

It's the same process you'll ever take if you want to see all of the Access Points available to you in a designated place, such as a coffee shop, restaurant, or bar. So long as the signal is strong enough for someone else (meaning they're close enough), they can double-click your network and latch on. Like a leech, they can simply sap your Wi-Fi and gain access to the web without ever paying for it.

**Caption: Somewhere in there, a hacker will find a loophole

Of course, the greatest danger aren't neighbors who simply don't have the extra cash to sign up for legit wireless internet service. Instead, the bad men, or women, are hackers who could potentially access important personal information. Internet security gurus Symantec have identified wireless theft as one of the greatest threats to safe web connections around the world.

The real hazards lie with those businesses, and yes, even homeowners, who use the internet for banking purposes. Since stealing Wi-Fi has become a neat, little hobby for many hackers, the potential for cracking a PC and reaping the gooey, inner details is a real possibility.

For more on how to protect yourself, click on our guide to WEP [WEP]and WPA [WPA], as well as our easy manual on establishing a safe network [Steps to Protect You and Your Wireless].