How To Secure Your Wireless Network
by Jerry Malcolm - Originally published in issue 1 of (IN)SECURE Magazine - Tuesday, 9 August 2005.
The age of wireless computing has brought unprecedented freedom and mobility for computer systems users in a variety of circumstances. Even in the home setting, a wireless network at home enables each family member to access the internet and be productive without the constraints of one room set aside for the computer or competition for access to the line. The kids can do their homework, mom and dad their web surfing, email or work and all with complete freedom of movement due to the wireless LAN infrastructure set up in the home setting.

However, going totally wireless at home brings with it some possible problems as any new technology will do. Not the least of those concerns is security.

Going wireless means by definition that access to your computing resources and the internet is occurring without wires, through the air. And just as every computer in the house can access those digital signals, so can those outside the house and those who might not wish to use those signals properly.

Therefore when planning your wireless network at home, some precautions and preventative measures should be observed so assure that your network at home is just as secure in a wireless mode as it was when you used cables and physical connections.

This purpose of this article is to help you understand the terminology of wireless security in the home setting as well as to develop a check list for key security oriented steps you should take when setting up and using your network.

Some New Terminology

The wireless world has its own language and set of acronyms. So it’s appropriate before beginning our discussion of security to define some of the terms we need to understand to be effective at securing your home wireless network.

SSID (Service Set Identifier) - This is the name of your network. All devices on the wireless network must use the same SSID to communicate with each other.

WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) - A discipline that was integrated into the very earliest wireless standardization efforts that were put into place for the development of wireless technology. This protocol provides base level security standardization for all WI-FI vendors and systems that benefit from the OSI standardization effort. This standard, also called 802.11 is a default security level that is mandatory for all wireless products. WEP is either turned “on” or “off”. WEP was designed around the same security paradigms that were used in the wired network development time frame.

WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) - A security protocol for the wireless technology industry that was developed to improve on the limitations of WEP.

TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) - TKIP is a more secure version of WEP which is required to utilize WPA for network security. TKIP encryption is stronger and more resilient than the WEP algorithm.

MAC Addressing (Media Access Control) - Similar to and of as great of importance as an IP Address, the MAC address is a 12 digit hexadecimal number that is associated with the network adapter directly. Also known as the hardware or physical address of the adapter.

DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) - Otherwise known as dynamic IP addressing DHCP allows a network to join the internet without a preset IP address.

DHCP is a utility that assigns the IP address to devices as they enter the network in an ad hoc or dynamic basis then releases that IP address for reuse once the device departs active network participation. In this way, the logged on unit never has a “static” IP address. Similarly home wireless network routers support DHCP to make development and utilization of the home wireless network more convenient and less complicated.

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