Out of the Box Security
The prevalence of cheap wireless solutions has resulted in the smallest of businesses turning to wireless routers and other devices to enable their networks. While these devices work wonders towards improving productivity and flexibility, there is also a huge downside to out of the box security.
Most routers shipped out these days arrive with minimal security configurations. Instead, they come straight from the manufacturer ready to provide an instant wireless connection. Although this is rather convenient, it doesn't give any protection for your network and the secrets it contains. Outsiders can and often do thieve data from unsecured wireless connections. Even with the facts as they are, you would be surprised to know how many small businesses take the gamble of connecting a company laptop to an unprotected wireless router, basically inviting an intruder into the network.
The Right Wireless Security for You
When it comes to security for your wireless router, you generally have two choices - WEP or WPA. WEP (Wired Equivalent Protocol) is the bare minimum encryption standard that should be used to protect network data. WEP uses either a 64 or 128-bit shared key that must be entered by a user to make a connection to a wireless router. It provides layer two encryption for all wireless data, meaning it only utilizes the two lowest levels of the OSI (Opens Systems Communications) model. The NIC (network interface card) encrypts the payload of each data frame prior to transmission. The receiving station then reverses the process to decrypt and access the frame. In simpler terms, the goal of WEP is to provide the same level of security as a more reliable wired environment, hence the name.
The good thing as that WPE pretty much comes standard on all basic routers these days. The bad thing is that it isn't very reliable. WEP was exposed for it's flaws long ago, proving that the encryption could easily be cracked. While it isn't recommended in a corporate setting where secrecy is a requirement, WEP does provide adequate security for a home networking environment.
WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) was created due to the significant flaws in WEP encryption. This have proven to be a much more secure method of encrypting wireless communications for a network. WPA uses a technology called TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) to protect your passwords, enabling a secure connection to a wireless router.
Although 63 is the maximum, most security experts recommend at least a 20 character password to strengthen the security of WPA. It is also important to write down the password and store it in a safe place rather than somewhere on your computer. While this method is not foolproof either, WPA provides much better security than WEP.
The Wireless Network Bottom Line
In the end, having some type of wireless security is better than having none at all. If you simply plan to set up a wireless router and allow users to make a connection with no access to sensitive files, WEP is a good solution to begin with. If you want to install a router and allow staff to connect securely to the backbone of your corporation, WPA is the most secure method to use.