Photo credit by MC4 Army
So, you're enjoying your wireless Internet connection, right? Have you been surfing on your bed, at the kitchen table and even in your garden? Okay, have you noticed that your Internet connection is not fast enough at certain times of the day and then suddenly picks up speed? Do you always go to the nearest café for a cuppa and make use of its Wi-Fi facility? It's an exhilarating experience isn't it surfing in a comfy zone with hot coffee to perk you up?
Well, wireless surfing won't be such an exhilarating experience if you are aware of the risks your system is exposed to, especially if you haven't done your homework. A wireless connection, despite its convenience, can leave you exposed to bandwidth siphoning or unauthorized access to sensitive data in your computer. If you don't secure your network connection, you may soon find your neighbours leeching on your Internet connection. That's when you notice that your connection speed drops. And when you're at a Wi-Fi hotspot, there may a rogue surfer waiting to worm his way into your unsecured system and gain access to confidential stuff like your credit card details. The way to prevent this from happening is to secure your network. You do this by making use of encryption.
What encryption does is scramble each and every data packet the wireless router sends out. At the reception point, it is unscrambled back to the original form. If a user wants to receive the converted data packet his system must have the pass phrase or key required by the wireless router. Otherwise, there will be no reception. In this way, only authorized persons can have access to a wireless Internet connection.
Most wireless routers are shipped with their encryption mode turned off. So, you would have to configure the encryption yourself with the help of the provided documentation.
Would encryption guarantee the security of your network connection? Not entirely. Hackers can still gain access to your network if your encryption system is weak. This is especially so if you're using the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol. Hackers can hack a network connection with this encryption within minutes and get hold of the access key.
To overcome this problem, you're advised to use the Wireless Protected Access (WPA) protocol. Better still go with the improved WPA2 protocol. This encryption is more secure because both the protocols switch keys every now and then, making it difficult for hackers to gain access to the connection.
What if you have an old router that supports only WEP? You can go to the developer's website and check to see if a firmware upgrade is available to enable WPA support. Otherwise, just stick with WEP. It's better than no encryption at all.
When you're in Wi-Fi hotspots you could observe the following precautions:
- Make sure you surf in reputable hotspots only. Avoid little-known joints where there may be attempts to capture your private data.
- Enable firewall protection and make sure you disable file sharing in Windows.
- Although you feel secure in a hotspot, as far as possible try not to engage in Internet banking transactions or make purchases using your credit card.