Wireless Networking 101

How Safe is WPA2-Secured WiFi?

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Darryl Boyett asked if his home WiFi connection, which uses WPA2 protection, is safe enough for online banking.

I can't promise you that it is absolutely, 100-percent safe; but yes, it is safe enough.

If you have a router (and you should), and you have not turned off that router's wireless capabilities, then you really need to secure that WiFi connection. And WPA2 is currently the safest way to do that.

An unsecured connection allows neighbors and strangers access to your Internet connection and possibly your home network. They could stream video over your connection, slowing down your own Internet access. If they have the skills, they may be able to search your hard drive for bank account numbers and other sensitive information. Even worse, they could download something illegal, such as child pornography, and it will look to the police as if you're the guilty party.

So you need protection, and WPA2 offers considerably more than the older standards, WEP and WPA, both of which can be cracked in minutes. WPA2 can also be cracked, but if you set it up properly, cracking it will take more of the criminal's time than anything on your network is worth (assuming you're not working for the Department of Defense or the Mafia).

Check your router's menus or manual to find out how to set up WPA2 protection.

One important part of setting it up properly is to use a strong password. Your dog's name is not a strong password. Neither is ralph, humdinger, or password. But LcSGm\|lJ]Xc;<U0e=)[gHjCPvJX{6L6oW!a is a very good password, indeed (except for the fact that it's now been published in PC World). For more on the subject, see What Is the Best Way to Create Strong Passwords?

You can never achieve perfect security--not on the Internet, in your home network, nor in your real, physical home. After all, someone once stole the Mona Lisa. But you can make your home, and your home network, sufficiently secure so that criminals will look elsewhere.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.

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