The Biggest Wireless Networking Myths, Debunked

Myths about wireless networking continue to spread despite ample evidence to the contrary. Staples tech experts can give you the true story.

Many savvy computer users follow a common set of rules about wireless network use. Sadly, many of these rules are based on common misconceptions that may do more harm than good.

Here’s a snapshot of some things you may think you know about Wi-Fi that are, in fact, dead wrong.

WEP Encryption: Not Secure Enough

Many people still believe there’s a difference between an “open” network and a network secured with Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption.

Although a WEP-secured network can’t be accessed instantaneously, this archaic protocol can be cracked quite easily. Free and simple software is available all over the Web to accomplish the task, and even a child with a laptop can sniff out your password in just seconds. The solution: Avoid WEP at all costs.

Is WPA/WPA2 the Answer?

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption is the best we’ve got right now for most wireless networks. However, just like any password system, this protocol is vulnerable to so-called “dictionary attacks,” which involve using “brute-force” methods to guess all the likely and even unlikely words a user might choose. Sound like a lot of work? It isn’t. These programs complete hundreds of thousands of queries in a matter of seconds.

The solution: Pick a random alphanumeric password at least 10 characters long. No birthdays, no movies. Only by reaching a certain level of unguessable complexity can you can reliably repel brute-force attacks.

Should You Hide Your SSID?

Several security analysts have pointed out the fallacy of this SSID myth, which claims the safest thing you can do for your router name is to hide it from view.

Not only will simple software discover your “hidden” hotspot, but bigger problems are associated with what this feature makes your laptop do: It broadcasts your Wi-Fi configuration settings everywhere it goes. It doesn’t take much resourcefulness for a hacker to record this information and use it to compromise your home system.

The “Rules” of Public Wi-Fi

Two myths surrounding public networks continue to persist despite having been debunked dozens of times. The first is that a “pay” network is safer than a freely available one. As it turns out, what you pay or do not pay has nothing to do with the safety of a network.

The second myth is that plugging your laptop into a hotel Ethernet connection is safer than using its Wi-Fi. Again: nope. The network itself is the key. If it’s secure, you’re fine, but if it’s vulnerable to attack, then adding a wire in the middle won’t help anyone at all.

What should you do with this information? Always opt for WPA security, stick with networks that require complex and random passwords and stay away from anything that says “WEP” on the cover. Taking just a few simple precautions can mean the difference between losing your data and enjoying the pleasure of working untethered wherever you go.

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