Most of us connect to our broadband connection wirelessly these days, using our laptop, smartphone or other mobile device. The vast majority of broadband routers come with integrated wireless capability and this has led to a proliferation of wireless networks, also called wifi networks – short for Wireless Fidelity.
The real advantage of wifi is its simplicity; it’s very easy to set up and use and you don’t need a cable! Let’s take a closer look at how to use it and, more importantly, how to make it more secure.
Wi-fi was developed in the 1990s to provide short range (up to 100 metres) wireless access to networks. The practical working range of wifi depends on various factors, most notably physical obstacles like walls that degrade the signal. The useful range indoors is about 20 to 30 metres. It is one of many technologies that uses microwave radio waves (2.4GHz) to transmit the signal, but uses a relatively low power (100 milliwatts – by comparison the most powerful mobile phones can be up to three watts). It’s still microwave radiation and there is still some debate about the long-term effects but that’s for another discussion.
Connecting to a wireless network
The wifi network router or access point broadcasts an identifier to allow users to connect. This is called the SSID or Station Set Identifier. This can be anything you like that will help you identify your network. Some administrators like to make the SSID obvious like ‘HotelWifi’, which will make it easier for users, however it also gives some information to potential hackers. If you want to be a little more secure, use an innocuous name for your home wireless network, such as ‘Magic’. That way they can see it but don’t know which house it’s coming from!
Securing your wireless network
There are a couple of simple ways to secure your wireless network. The simplest and most secure is to just enable encryption on the wireless access point using Wifi Protected Access (WPA) or Wifi Protected Access II (WPA2) – two encryption protocols approved by the Wifi Alliance. These offer considerable improvements over the previous Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP), which is no longer considered good enough. To enable WPA or WPA2, simply enable encryption on the access point and choose a Pre-shared Key or Passphrase, which is nothing more than a password. Be sure to choose a strong passphrase with a mixture of alphabetic, numeric and special characters. Simple passphrases are still open to a brute force attack i.e. a dictionary attack where a hacker will attempt to guess the passphrase by repeatedly trying words from a dictionary (using a programme of course)!
Connecting to the wireless network
Connecting couldn’t be easier. Most laptops and Smartphones will search for available wireless networks as soon as you start your browser. Simply select the appropriate SSID and enter your passphrase. Wait a few seconds and then start surfing!
Eamon is a senior IT professional with PaqIT, an IT service provider with offices in Limerick and Galway. See www.paqit.com.