Ask the Geek
|What security level should I use for my home wireless?|
|Sunday, 17 January 2010|
Great Neck, NY - This is a good question and the answer depends on the capabilities of your wireless (WiFi) router and your home computer/laptop. The general answer is to use the highest level possible that will work across all your equipment. You will need to consider all the devices you want to connect, including your mobile devices like iPods, smart phones, laptops, desktops and even your TiVo!
There are different level of security to consider, each one with its benefits and drawbacks. When they say security, they mean encryption. This is so an eavsdropper can't intercept your signal and steal information you are transmitting or receiving. If you use your home computer to connect to the office network, this is even more critical, because an unprotected home network could potentially allow a hacker to access the company network through your WiFi. The other reason is that an unsecured network means anyone can use your Internet access without paying for it or worse yet, use your network to launch an attack.
Most commercial home routers support at least WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocal) security. This is the weakest level and was cracked virtually at the same time it was released. If it's your only choice, then use it since it's better than nothing. WPA and WPA-2 are the more modern versions of WEP and are stronger to crack, but it's not impossible for a determined hacker. In all cases, you need to specify a key (also referred to as a password or pre-shared key). You enter this in the router configuration first. Then, when you try to connect to the wireless from say a laptop, you will be asked for the key. You enter the matching key and all traffic over WiFi will be encrypted.
Use WPA-2 if possible. If your laptop or other device gives you problems when connecting, drop it down to WPA to see if that works better. Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X all support WPA.
If you need really strong encryption then you will want to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) instead. Most home based routers/firewalls do NOT include this feature and it's more complex to setup. You will likely need to get a combined firewall and router that supports IPSec to get this working. We definitely recommend some professional assistance if this is what you need and keep in mind that most mobile devices don't support IPSec out of the box, so you might not be able to get your iPod and phones to work without third party add-ons.
These days, most manufacturers turn on security by default. Check it! If they don't, go into the configuration of the router and turn it on. It's worth time and effort.