Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Securing Your WiFi

With security breaches in the news almost once a week, business owners are beginning to realize that data security isn’t a tangential issue to business operations.  It’s a key concern, for you and your clients.  This is especially so for attorneys.

As WiFi technology becomes cheaper, more convenient, and easier to use, it becomes more and more ubiquitous, especially in high-density cities.  Just by sitting in a coffee shop in Midtown, you usually have access to more than a handful of networks.

One of the reasons why WiFi equipment is so widely used is that it’s easy for people to install. Out of the box it's typically set for being completely open and being willing to "talk" to just about every device that presents itself.

While that's good for ensuring that these devices work quickly, they are completely devoid of any security to protect you and your data.

Having an open WiFi network means that anyone who happens to be in the neighborhood can see and access not only your Internet connection, but also the other devices on your network, such as computers, printers, shared disks, etc.

The good news is that all equipment that provides WiFi service has built-in security capabilities that can help protect you.

The two primary ways to secure your WiFi connection are:

·         Password protect or hide your hotspot (figuratively speaking)
·         Encrypt your data

Every WiFi hotspot has a name, called an SSID (service set ID). A WiFi hotspot can choose to broadcast its SSID or not.  If the SSID is broadcast, everyone within range can detect that a WiFi hotspot by that name is available.  If the SSID is not broadcast, people who know it's there and know its name can still access it by telling their device to connect to a hotspot with that name.

Once a WiFi hotspot has a name, the administrator (usually you) can determine whether or not there's a password that's required access.  If not, the hotspot is considered "open."

But password protection doesn't guarantee security.  Without encryption, all of the data that's transmitted between the hotspot and the computer device is visible to people who know how to monitor this information.  These items can be emails, transactions, word processing documents, etc.

There are two major types of encryption that consumers use:  WPA (or WPA2) and the older WEP.  If available, use WPA2.  This requires the sharing of a "pass phrase" that people use when they connect to the hotspot.  It allows the hotspot and the device to encrypt the data so that only people who need to access the data can.

Another feature of some of the higher-end WiFi hotspots is a "guest" network that lets visitors have access to the Internet, but not your local network.  This way, you can give people Internet access while keeping them away from your network.  The Apple AirPort Extreme is one such example.

The bottom line is:  be sure to secure your WiFi hotspots.  Most manufacturers make it very easy to do, including Linksys (part of Cisco) that offers installation software for their products that configure everything for you so you don't have to be a tech to do it.

Keeping your network and Internet access secure is a smart and easy way to protect you and your data.

Mark Mathias is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of NexFirm.  He has more than 30 years of experience with large and small company technology matters.