Wireless Networks

By Vince Barnes

I want to talk a little bit about wireless networking. This technology has taken off like crazy over the past year or two and is now to be found in at least one or two homes on practically every street around here. Where you are, the take up might be a little slower, or it might be a little faster -- there's no way for me to know. Either way, I think I can be pretty confident that it is something you either have, or have given consideration to.

Over the past twelve days I have been called upon to install no less than eleven different wireless networks. At each and every one of them I found the same phenomenon. I was amazed, all things considered, and thought that this has to be talked about to as many people as possible before it gets even more out of hand.

I call this phenomenon the "garage door" syndrome.

Some time over the past couple or so decades (I don't want to get too specific -- it might age me!) electric garage door openers became very popular. Funnily enough, however, even though everybody wants one, or so it would seem, home builders still don't often include one with a new home. This means that whether your home is new or a little older, if you want an electric garage door opener you have two choices. You can hire a contractor to install one for you, or you can buy one at your favorite hardware store and install it yourself.

Im truth, while it may be a little more complicated to install a garage door opener than to install a light bulb, it is not very much more so! For this reason, most people will choose the latter choice and save themselves a lot of money. This, however, is where another law starts to work against you.

For whatever reason, it usually ends up being the male partner's job to complete the installation. This may or may not be the wisest choice! There is something called the "first law of testosterone", which says that you must never read the instructions, or if you do, you must read as little as possible of them. The net result of this is that the warning that appears at the bottom of every garage door installation instruction document is so often ignored. It is, as you may already have guessed, the part that tells you to change to codes in the sender and the receiver, and how to complete the task.

Ignoring this instruction results in so many openers being installed with a factory default code that all a would be burglar has to do is drive through a neighborhood with a factory default garage door opener or two, with their buttons pressed, in order to find a selection of wide open, easy to burgle, "please rob me blind" houses!

In today's brave new, Internet connected world, the equivalent is the wireless network. People will go out, buy a wireless router and a couple of adapters, plug in the router, stick the cards into their pcs, turn it all on and low and behold, it works!! Great job, Mr. Smart Guy! And all done in compliance with that previously mentioned first law -- not a single reference (or maybe only one or two) to the instructions! Now there's your computer genius!

Trouble is, out of the box wireless networks are wide open garage doors (or should I say, easy to open garage doors?) In the instructions, you will find warnings about "open" "non-secured" networks. There's a reason why they're there.

Ask yourself if there is anything in your computer that you would not be particularly happy to share with the rest of the population of our planet. If there is something, as I suspect there might be, you probably want to secure it. Refer to those instructions! Securing your wireless network takes only moments and its soooo easy!

I must admit that every one of those wireless networks I installed was in an apartment complex and so the population density is going to affect the odds of finding unsecured networks; nonetheless, the number I found was staggering! In the "most secure" complex, I found only three unsecured networks within range of the installation I was putting in. In the least, there were seven!!

"Ah, but I have a firewall - on of those commercial, high strength babies that they talk about; so why should I worry?" asks the uninformed. "Uh-huh," say I. "You should see what I can do with the little tool kit I downloaded for free from the Internet," I continue, all I need is physical access to your network."

While it is true that there may be ways to penetrate secured networks, the task is vastly more difficult than for unsecured ones. Chances are, those with the skills needed for such a penetration are not spending their time messing with your home system; on the other hand, an unsecured network is just the kind of fodder a "script kiddie" needs to feed their misdirected sense of self worth.

Each of the networks I set up was secured with 128-bit WEP. There is also WPA, which some say is more secure then 12-bit WEP. I don't think there's much difference between three feet and three-and-a-half feet of concrete when it comes to protecting my home, and 128-bit WEP is compatible with a much wider range of devices and systems the WPA (at this point in time.) It's my choice because it's easy, compatible, and offers all the security I'm really likely to need.

Folks, please!! Lock down your wireless networks! Don't go to bed at night with your front door wide open and a sign out in the yard saying "Easey target here -- help yourself to what you want!!"

And if you don't think that's what your open, unsecured network is saying.... what do you know about "war-driving"?

 



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