WiFi Security Levels: What’s Best for Your Network?

If you have a home wireless network, it’s worth determining your WiFi security levels, as well as what exactly they mean for your connection. With just a few simple steps, you can make sure any WiFi network is operating with maximum protection.

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Security Simplified

There are three “types” of WiFi security: wired equivalent privacy (WEP), WiFi protected access (WPA), and WiFi protected access version 2 (WPA2). According to a white paper from the IT security magazine hackin9.org, WEP came first, debuting in 1999 as part of the IEEE 802.11 wireless standard. The goal was to provide a level of protection equal to a wired connection, but since it wasn’t the brainchild of security or cryptography experts, WEP was quickly hacked. WPA developed as an interim solution while a new standard — IEEE 802.11i — was being finalized. In 2004, IEEE 802.11i went public along with WPA2, which featured several security enhancements. The most important was the advanced encryption standard (AES), approved by the US government for encrypting top-secret information.

Worth Checking

Current-generation wireless modems and routers usually support multiple security levels but may not always default to WPA2. To find out how your network is protected, point a web browser to your router’s home IP address and access the control panel. Not sure what IP address it uses? You can either look up a list of common IP addresses for router brands online or find your Command Prompt in Windows. Then enter “ipconfig”. This will return an IP address called “default gateway,” which is the address of your router. Putting this address into a browser brings up the router’s control panel, where you’ll be required to enter a login name and password. Refer to your router’s manual for this information.

Once you’ve accessed the control panel, find the tab or drop-down menu labeled “security.” There, you’ll be able to see what kind of protection is in place and adjust any settings necessary. If supported, you can increase the security level from WEP or WPA to WPA2, along with creating a unique passphrase users must enter before they’re granted access. In addition, you can directly control which other devices are connected to your network, ban certain devices based on their IP, or even make your network invisible to other computers in the area. When selecting a WPA2 passphrase, make sure to use something you’ll remember but hackers won’t guess — so avoid things like street addresses or repeating number patterns.

The best security level for your WiFi network is WPA2. If you’re not sure how a network is protected, check the router’s control panel and increase WiFi security levels as necessary. Insecure networks are tempting targets: make sure you’re in control of who gets access, and when.

Photo credit: Flickr/Xurble