Click to Print

Protecting Your Wireless Network

An unprotected wireless network is like an open door to hackers and criminals. Here's how to keep them out.
August 1, 2005

A wireless network can be a big boon for a small business. Multiple computers can share printers and a single broadband internet connection without the hassle of running cables through walls. You can access your customer database whether you're in your office or meeting clients in a conference room. Employees in the stockroom can update your inventory database in real-time using wireless PDAs.

Unfortunately, wireless networks are also a big boon for hackers.

Wireless networks transmit data over radio waves, which can potentially be intercepted. As a result, an unprotected wireless network is like an unlocked door--and too many small businesses are leaving their doors wide open. By year's end, about 75 percent of businesses with 1,000 employees or less will have wireless networks, according to research firm Gartner. Only half of all wireless networks are protected.

Whenever there's an opportunity, there'll be someone to exploit it. For example, "wardrivers" are people who drive around specifically looking for unsecured wireless networks to access. A wardriver may simply be seeking a free ride onto the internet. On the other hand, someone within the signal range of your wireless network could steal your business's private data (such as account numbers and customer records), record the keystrokes you type on your computer, monitor the websites you visit, and read your e-mail--without even having to get out of their car.

What's more, a hacker could use your wireless network to illegally download copyrighted music files, send spam (illegal in some countries), sell drugs or commit other crimes. And if a crime is traced to your network, you could be held responsible.

Keep Outsiders Out

Below are some steps small businesses can take to make their wireless connection more secure:

There are two main encryption standards: Wired equivalent privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi protected access (WPA). But the newer WPA (and WPA2) protocols provide stronger encryption and more reliable, advanced security. For the best wireless security, make sure your network equipment supports WPA or WPA2. If your equipment only offers WEP encryption, consider upgrading.

A wireless network is only as good as its security. So to keep your business growing today--and tomorrow--make sure your wireless network is up to date and comprehensive.