November 17, 2011, 9:35 AM — Wi-Fi gives us freedom from wires, but it's not secure by default. Data is transmitted through the air, and anyone nearby can easily capture it with the right tools. As discussed below, whether you have your own Wi-Fi network or use someone else's, employing security measures is necessary to protect company files, online accounts, and user privacy.
Why Protect Your Wi-Fi Network?
By default, Wi-Fi routers and access points aren't secure when you purchase them. Unless you enable encryption, people nearby can easily connect to your network. At best, they just use the free wireless Internet for browsing and downloading, possibly slowing down your connections. However, if they wanted to, they could possibly access your PCs and files. They also could easily capture your passwords or hijack your accounts for websites and services that don't use SSL encryption, such as some Web-based email clients, Facebook, and Twitter.
If your Internet service provider (ISP) set up your Wi-Fi, it likely enabled encryption. This version of encryption, however, may be an older security option that's now easily breakable: Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP).
Why protect your connections on other Wi-Fi networks? When you connect to outside networks, such as hotspots in coffee shops, airports, and other public places, the connection is almost always insecure. Eavesdroppers don't even have to connect to the Wi-Fi hotspot to capture your traffic. And as with using any other unencrypted Wi-Fi network, they could possibly get hold of your passwords or hijack your online accounts.
To check the security status of your Wi-Fi--and raise its security level as needed--follow these best practices.
1. Choose the Right Wi-Fi Security Options
You can use any of several separate protocols that provide different levels of security: WEP, WPA, and WPA2. You see these options when enabling or changing the wireless security on your wireless router or access points (APs). Depending upon your device, you may have to select WPA first to see the WPA2 option.