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5 Wi-Fi security myths you must abandon now

Eric Geier | Oct. 8, 2013
Save yourself and your friends from these outdated or inaccurate security techniques, and learn the current best practices.

Myth No. 5: Small networks are hard to penetrate
This myth suggests that reducing your wireless router's transmission power will make it harder for someone outside your home or place of business to sneak onto your network because they won't be able to detect it. This is the dumbest security idea of them all. Anyone intent on cracking your wireless network will use a large antenna to pick up your router's signals. Reducing the router's transmission power will only reduce its range and effectiveness for legitimate users.

No myth: Encryption is the best network security
Now that we've dispensed with five Wi-Fi security myths, let's discuss the best way to secure your wireless network: encryption. Encrypting—essentially scrambling—the data traveling over your network is powerful way to prevent eavesdroppers from accessing data in a meaningful form. Though they might succeed in intercepting and capturing a copy of the data transmission, they won't be able to read the information, capture your login passwords, or hijack your accounts unless they have the encryption key.

Several types of encryption have emerged over the years. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) provided the best security in the early days of Wi-Fi. But today WEP encryption can be cracked in a matter of minutes. If that's the only security your router provides, or if some of your networked devices are so old that they can work only with WEP, it's long past time for you to recycle them and upgrade to a newer standard.

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) came next, but that security protocol had security problems, too, and has been superseded by WPA2. WPA2 has been around for nearly 10 years. If your equipment is old enough to be limited to WPA security, you should consider an upgrade.

Both WPA and WPA2 have two different modes: Personal (aka PSK, an acronym for Pre-Shared Key) and Enterprise (aka RADIUS, an acronym for Remote Authentication Dial In User Server). WPA Personal is designed for home use and is easy to set up. You simply establish a password on your router and then enter that password on each computer and other device that you want to connect to your Wi-Fi network. As long as you use a strong password—I recommend using 13 or more mixed-case characters and symbols—you should be fine. Don't use words found in the dictionary, proper nouns, personal names, the names of your pets, or anything like that. A strong password might look like this: h&5U2v$(q7F4*.

Your router might include a push-button security feature called Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). WPS enables you to join a device to your WPA2-secured wireless network by pushing a button on the router and a button on the client (if the client also supports WPS). A flaw in WPS leaves it vulnerable to brute-force attacks, however. If you're particularly security-conscious, you might consider turning off WPS in your router.


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