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January 10, 2008

Wi-Fi: To Secure Or Not To Secure? That Is The Question.

Techmeme posted with an interesting discussion around securing Wi-Fi networks. The discussion was started by an article in the Wired website titled: "Steal This Wi-Fi". In that article, Bruce Schneier admits that his home wireless network is "open" (no passwords or encryption). He discusses the security issues around having an open wireless system, but what really made sense to me was his point on where the security really should be - ON THE HOME PC'S OR LAPTOPS! Here is a snippet from his article:

"I'm also unmoved by those who say I'm putting my own data at risk, because hackers might park in front of my house, log on to my open network and eavesdrop on my internet traffic or break into my computers. This is true, but my computers are much more at risk when I use them on wireless networks in airports, coffee shops and other public places. If I configure my computer to be secure regardless of the network it's on, then it simply doesn't matter. And if my computer isn't secure on a public network, securing my own network isn't going to reduce my risk very much."

Here are my two cents on securing home wireless networks:

1. OPEN WIRELESS ANYONE? It seems the top trends of 2008 include "openness is dominating the wireless lexicon", "story of openness, offering any device open access to any network with the switch of a SIM card"and even the "FCC is getting involved"... Will all of this openness lead to one big mesh network? Meraki has already jumped on board with mesh networking....

2. TO SECURE OR NOT TO SECURE? Yes, it is nice to share your wireless network access with your neighbors, don't you appreciate when you go to a cafe and use their wireless for free? But to be safe, all computers on the "open" network should have their own security set up. Otherwise, you may open yourself up to security trouble or end up in the Wireless LAN Security Hall of Shame...

Here are some tips for securing home wireless networks and here are some photos from CNET. Wireless Router manufacturers have security information on their sites (here is the link to the Linksys Learning Center's guide for wireless network security). If you do have an open wireless, understand the security issues around that. For example, those running a business have to comply with different security standards (or pay the price). Which means those using their home wireless network for business may want to implement a security strategy reflecting the type of business they have. No matter if your computers are just personal or business related, their assets should be protected.

Bottom Line: Make sure your home computer is secure. Especially with laptops that at some point or another will use free Wi-Fi that could be a security risk. For those in the right situation, an open wireless may be just fine and a neighborly thing to do... But - if you run a home business  or send confidential data between home computers, then a more comprehensive strategy should be put in place.

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The funny thing is that when I was an IT Manager, I would totally pound on it that my clients should secure their wireless, but on my home network I had no security. I was not practicing what I preached. I do have it secure now, only because I don't trust my neighbors enough to allow them the opportunity to send spam through my network.

Sarah-
Funny, I was an application security designer so I also can't live without security. Our wireless has security also. But I do like the whole open - share concept. If they only had it to be "open", without spam or hackers....

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