What’s so bad about unprotected wireless?

What’s so bad about having unprotected wireless? Apparently a majority of people are doing it.

In my week-long effort looking at protecting your computer, I wanted to end with something that has gained in popularity along with increasing in risk: wireless connectivity and protection. Just so happens that this was covered in a story today in the Washington Post

An unprotected wireless network may be open to more people than just your neighbours looking for a free wireless link to the web: it can be a risky thing, almost as inviting as an unlocked front door. From the Post:

Hackers searching for financial information, business records, or sensitive e-mail can enter into your open network as easily as if you left your personal and business files at the curbside.

No kidding. Many wireless routers come configured with Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2) turned off, which is fine… unless the new owner never turns the protection on. In my neighbourhood, I took a look at just how much of a problem open wireless is (unsecured networks) I found no fewer than five available, unsecured wireless access points that I was able to access. And reported that one survey found that just about 60% of Wi-Fi networks have “no security system at all.”

GetNetWise ( is an initiative and site that Microsoft supports, offering ways to protect families from malicious threats on the Web. The site recently featured a Spotlight on Wireless Security, providing guidance and suggestions on using your computer wirelessly, over a wireless network (Wi-Fi) and if you happen to have a wireless network at home. From GetNetWise:

Consumers are striving to enhance their productivity in both their personal and professional lives. More and more they are turning to wireless technology for daily use in or outside of the home or office. Wireless devices provide mobility for wireless enabled devices such as laptops, smartphones, and PDAs. The GetNetWise Spotlight on Wireless Security will address issues surrounding mobile security, wireless home networking and public Wi-Fi use.

Connected Home magazine recently featured an article on “Five Steps to Home Wireless Security.” As noted at the top of the post, you lock up your house and protect your valuables, so think about your home network in a similar fashion.

  • Step 1: Change the Router’s Default Administrator Password

  • Step 2: Change the Default SSID and Disable SSID Broadcast

  • Step 3: Change the IP Address Setting

  • Step 4: Set Up Your Router to Use Encryption (WEP or WPA)

  • Step 5: Use the MAC Address Filter

If you want to be neighbourly and share your network, you might decide to set up and share a WEP key or the stronger WPA (if your network devices support it) with your friends. ArsTechnica has a good overview on the Essentials of Home Wireless Security Practices. Also check out the Microsoft Home Security web site with more information on what you can do to enhance the security on your computer at home.

The industry also needs to continue the innovation and improvements to the customer experience that we’ve seen take place in the last few years, providing better and improved solutions. Not only is it simpler to set up a network at home than it was just a couple of years ago, it’s less expensive and more user friendly. As such, the way we protect our networks should be simpler too: one example is Linksys’ SecureEasySetup™ (their tm), providing a quick and easy way to connecting your computer or other wireless device to a Linksys wireless router with the feature. It automatically sets up a custom SSID and WPA. And you can secure your wireless home network with Windows XP, easily setting up other wireless connected Windows computers by using the Wireless Network Setup Wizard with a floppy or USB flash drive.

As Mike Nash recently said, we’re encouraging our partners and other companies to get involved and be active against the security threat that faces consumers every day: “the more companies that are active and involved, the better we will be as an industry at limiting vulnerabilities, solving issues that arise and building greater trust in the computing environment for all of our customers.”

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