Is Wireless Security a Contradiction in Terms?

Wi-Fi is everywhere. Whether you travel for business or simply need Internet access while out and about, your options are plentiful. You can sign on at airports, hotels, coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and now, airplanes. What are your risk factors when accessing wireless? There are plenty. Wi-Fi wasn't born to be secure. It was born to be convenient. Wireless networks broadcast messages using radio and are thus more susceptible to eavesdropping than wired networks.

Anyone using an open unsecured network risks exposing their data. There are many ways to see who's connected on a wireless connection, and to gain access to their information. As more sensitive data has been wirelessly transmitted over the years, the need for security has evolved. Today, with criminal hackers as sophisticated as they ever have been, wireless communications are at an even higher risk.

When setting up a wireless router, there are two different security protocol options. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2) is a certification program that was created in response to several serious weaknesses researchers had found in the previous system, Wired Equivalent Privacy. Wired Equivalent Privacy was introduced in 1997 and is the original version of wireless network security.

There are a few things you should do to protect yourself while using wireless.

Be smart about what kind of data you transmit on a public wireless connection. Only transmit critical data from secure sites, ones where "HTTPS" appears in the address bar. These sites have additional encryption built in.

Don't store critical data on a device used outside the secure network. I have a laptop and an iPhone. If they are hacked, there's no data on either device that would compromise my identity or financial security.

If you have file sharing set up on a home network, when venturing to wireless hot spots you need to manually turn it off on your laptop.

Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on your laptop or cell phone when you're not using them. An unattended device emitting wireless signals is very appealing to a criminal hacker.

Beware of free Wi-Fi connections. Anywhere you see a broadcast for "Free Wi-Fi," consider it a red flag. It's likely that free WiFi is being used as bait.

Beware of evil twins. Anyone can set up a router to say "T-Mobile" "ATT Wireless" or "Wayport". These are connections can appear legitimate but are actually traps set to snare anyone who connects.

Keep your antivirus software and operating system updated. Make sure your antivirus software is automatically updated and your operating system's critical security patches are up to date.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert adviser to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses hackers hacking wireless networks on Fox Boston. (Disclosures)

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