Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


Network safety, plain and simple

February 24, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

Making your home Wi-Fi network safe is no trouble at all -- if you can speak like a geek and wear a beanie with a spinning propeller on top.

It's a lot harder, of course, if you're not a propeller head. That's because the goofy gurus who dreamed up the whole idea of home networking wrapped the subject in a few hundred yards of esoterica -- a $50 word for something you'll never be able to figure out because you're busy trying to live a normal life.

I can't turn water into wine, but I can unwrap a lot of the mystery of what should have been a simple task. Let's get started.

Al Gore aside, the Internet is indeed a lot like a superhighway. Such a fast road would do you no good if you couldn't get onto it. So the onramp, so to speak, is your home network. It gives your computer or tablet access to the Internet.

Your home network, then, can be thought of as a private way to access the Internet. It's private because you own the ramp -- the network -- and because you control all access to that ramp. You have a huge gate across the entrance. That gate would be stone and steel for a real road, but for a home network all that's needed is a password.

Only you know the password, so only you will be able to open the gate.

So far, so good. Right? Except for one little thing: The guessability of your password. If someone can figure it out, there goes your private network, and here come the bad guys, the ones bent on stealing your credit card numbers and anything else that can find.

Two weeks ago, in www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec021013.html, I told you how to create an unguessable password. Be sure to read that; don't assume you know how to do it. Most people don't, so be kind to your ego and read that article.

But even if you follow all my advice from last week, you can still end up without a private network. That's because bad guys can force their way into your onramp if you use a password that uses an unsafe security method. Mutton-heads call that sort of thing "encryption."

Enough explanation. My ears are ringing, too. Your network needs a safe method of encryption called "WPA" or "WPA2." The unsafe method is called "WEP." Try associating "WEP" with "weep" and you'll get the idea.

And how do you tell your network to do the WPA thing? In the network setup of your router, the book-sized device with blinking lights that connects your home network to the Internet. Avoid WEP and always choose WPA or WPA2. (You may see the word "personal" in the choice; that's OK.)

That's essential. And that's basically all you have to do. Your personal onramp is personal and private only if you keep it that way.