I’m going to spend the next two columns dealing with some of the specific points you should know about running a wireless network.

This column is specifically targeted to home users as a rule, but corporate networks also run by the same principles and you can take this advice for consideration for your business.

The key thing to understanding wi-fi is how it works. Basically, a wireless access point (WAP) or wireless router takes signals from the wired portion of your network and rebroadcasts them across radio frequencies.

Your laptop or other device broadcasts its part of the communication across the radio frequencies as well and these are received by your WAP or router.

If you think of the system working in the same way as your radio, or non-cable or non-satellite television, you would be completely correct.

And, like a radio, anyone within the broadcast area of your WAP or router can also pick up the signals being transmitted back and forth. Depending on the type of wi-fi you are using, this could be a range of over 100m in every direction.

The benefit of not needing to run wiring through your house to provide internet access anywhere in your home is obvious.

However, you have to temper this by dealing with the potential of eavesdropping on your communications from a reasonable distance away. This could happen from a car in the street or a neighbour in another apartment or condo “piggy-backing” on your internet.

Both of these problems can result in either theft of personal information or incurring extra charges for your internet service because someone else is using it as well.

How do we prevent these?

The first step is to ensure that the data transmitted through your wireless connection is encrypted. Encryption is the process of using mathematical formulas and a character key to convert your data into unreadable characters. The recipient, either your laptop or wireless router, decrypts the transmission, which converts the unreadable text into the original message.

Wi-fi uses three different encryption standards with three differing levels of protection. These are WEP, WPA and WPA2.
WPA2, sometimes called Corporate or Enterprise WPA, is the most effective known wi-fi encryption standard. If this option is available, you should choose WPA2 as your choice of encryption.

The method of configuring this will differ, depending on the brand of WAP or router.

Check the manual that came with your access point or router for how to log into the router and where to find the security configuration. Then, determine which standards are available and choose WPA2 or WPA if the former is not available.

This will allocate an encryption key, a string of letters and numbers. Make sure you write this down, since you will need it to configure your laptop or smart phone. After saving this, go to the Network settings for your wireless device and choose the same standard as you selected for the router or WAP.

If you are using a Windows computer, all you have to do is try to connect to the network. This will ask you for the key and you can enter this and use your wireless devices with some degree of security.

This job, which takes about five minutes, adds a vastly superior level of security to your web browsing.

However, several years ago, the two main makers of wireless routers announced that they estimated that 80 percent of their devices had not been configured to use encryption.

Next column, we’ll look at several other steps you can take to protect your Wi-Fi system.