What You Don't Know About Wireless Networks Could Hurt You

Wireless phones appeared in homes and businesses first, but now computers are going wireless too.
So, with that, comes some pretty important security concerns.

What it comes down to is how much privacy we're willing to sacrifice in the name of convenience.  You can have both, but like anything else, it'll cost ya.

Businesses have been doing it for years -- now, connecting two or more computers at home is getting popular too.  Either way,  a wireless network is a fairly inexpensive, easy way to do it.  Trouble is, it's also easy to break in.

"We've got viruses, we've got hackers, we've got all kinds of different things, each form of broadband internet, including wireless, DSL, Cable, all of them have their own vulnerabilities to security breaches," says Gene Magnus of CLAS Computers in Cape Girardeau.

Here's how it works.  From a central access point, other computers in the building connect to the network through radio waves. Those signals can radiate out in all directions to a distance of  up to 500 feet...that means, if you're close enough to the curb....anyone with a laptop, a wireless PC card, the right software, and a little know-how can cruise by, and tap into your network from the curb.

Now you may think there's nothing on your home network that any hackers would be interested in, but if you were say a bank or a Dr's. office, then all those client and patient records in an unprotected network could get you in a lot of trouble.

"If it's your home network, they could potentially view any records that are on any machines that are on your network.  If it's a business, um, again, it's basically the equivalent of leaving your door unlocked at night, and leaving the welcome mat out...anybody could just walk right in," warns Magnus.

Protecting yourself from intrusion means at the very least a software firewall, and if you're really serious, a hardware roadblock too -- or a combination of both.

"Nothing is impenetrable, uh, but the more layers of security tht you put between you and the people that want to try to get in..." advises Magnus.

Norton makes an entry-level software firewall that may be good enough for home users...but businesses may want to try something a little more serious like Black Ice Defender and Zone Labs' Zone Alarm.  Any wireless network vendor should be able to suggest what firewall protection is right for your system.

Of course each level of security is just that much more expensive, so you have to be honest with yourself -- especially if you're a business with client records -- how much protection you need.