Wireless Network Security Issues & Solutions

Instructor: David Whitsett

David has taught computer applications, computer fundamentals, computer networking, and marketing at the college level. He has a MBA in marketing.

Anything being broadcasted, such as data over a wireless network, can potentially be intercepted. In this lesson, we'll examine security for wireless networks and how data can be protected from theft and malicious use.

Why Is Wireless Network Security A Concern?

Have you noticed while you're using your home wireless network how many neighbors have wireless networks too? If you look at the list of wireless networks available to connect to, there's usually quite a few. So if you can see them and they can see you too, how do you protect your wireless network? And what if you're a business with a wireless network - if you have customer data, like credit card numbers on your servers, how do you protect it?

Wireless network access points (which connect your wireless device to the network) typically have an effective range of around 150 feet. So unless you build a home or office with spy-proof, high-tech walls and windows, people outside your building can intercept your wireless network signal. If they can intercept your signal, they can potentially log onto your network and gain access to your devices and data. How can you prevent this?

Securing your wireless network is vital to protecting your data
Secured wireless network

The first thing you can do to protect your wireless network is to assign a strong password to the access point. The password for your wireless network is also known as the network security key. When you do the initial setup on the wireless access point (if it's one you bought yourself), one of the first questions you're asked during the process is what kind of wireless security do you want to use. The most common today is WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2). WPA2 controls the authentication process (verifying the identity of both parties before the session begins), and your password is the cornerstone of this sequence. Access points will broadcast a SSID (Service Set Identifier), a name given to the access point by the end user (or sometimes by the Internet service provider). If you're using an access point or router that was provided by the Internet service provider (ISP), in addition to setting the SSID the ISP, you may also have to set up a default network security key.

Setting up a wireless router includes choosing a strong password
Wireless router example

When you log onto a wireless network with the proper password through WPA2 security, the data flowing back and forth is also protected via encryption, meaning the data is encoded so no one can use or understand it without the proper key. The combination of the password and the encryption is the heart of your network defenses.

What About When I Use Public Wi-Fi?

Ever notice all of the disclaimers and legal mumbo-jumbo you see when you connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot? There's a reason - the provider of the service knows their connection is not very secure, and they want you to know your information could be at risk. How so? One way is a hacker could be sitting close by broadcasting the SSID 'Free Public Wi-Fi'. You think great, I've found the free stuff, let me log in. The hacker has just caught you in a man-in-the-middle-attack and can now intercept your data. If you're in doubt what the name of the public Wi-Fi network is, ask when you walk into the establishment. Also, make sure you turn off file and print sharing on your device if there's a setting for that, and keep your device's operating system up to date with the latest patches and updates.

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