By default, most wireless networks are completely unprotected when you first set them up, however in a few minutes, you can protect your wireless network using encryption. Encryption scrambles data on your wireless network so that only computers that have the encryption key can read your communications.
You have several choices for wireless encryption:
• 64-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Protection). The original wireless encryption standard, it is now outdated. The main problem with it is that it can be easily “cracked.” Cracking a wireless network means defeating the encryption so that you can establish a connection without being invited.
• 128-bit WEP. An updated, more secure version of the original WEP. However, skilled attackers can still crack 128-bit WEP in a few hours or less, giving them access to your network.
• WPA-PSK (also known as WPA-Personal). A more secure alternative to WEP, but because it is newer, it is not as widely supported. Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 supports WPA, so this type of encryption is the best choice if you plan to connect only Windows XP computers to your wireless network.
However, if you have wireless devices that don’t support WPA, such as media extenders or wireless cameras, you’ll have to use WEP on your network instead.
You might also see the security method called “WPA-Enterprise.” As the name suggests, this method of network encryption is designed for business use. Setup for WPA-Enterprise is more complex than for other types of encryption, and it requires special network infrastructure.
• WPA2. The newest type of wireless encryption, WPA2 provides the highest level of encryption available. WPA2 encryption should be your first choice if your wireless router and all of your wireless computers and devices support it.
Even though one type of encryption may be better than another, any type will dramatically improve your network’s security by making you a more difficult target.