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Beginners Guides: Securing A Wireless Network

Beginners Guides: Securing A Wireless Network - PCSTATS
Abstract: Modern wireless networking products are inexpensive, simple to set up and very convenient. They are also full of holes... security holes, that is.
Filed under: Beginners Guides Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS Jul 30 2007   Mike Dowler  
Home > Reviews > Beginners Guides > PCSTATS

Wireless Protected Access: WEP Improved

That covers the basics of securing your wireless network.

Fairly recently, a new standard of wireless encryption was introduced which resolves most of the security issues that plague WEP. Called Wireless Protected Access, or WiFi Protected Access (WPA), the new standard was intended to replace WEP entirely as a single means of reliably securing WLANs. What actually happened was that most new products ended up supporting both encryption methods for backwards compatibility as well as the fact that WPA has a significantly higher overhead than WEP. WPA was commissioned as a stopgap replacement for WEP after the latter’s security inadequacies came to light.

WPA is the wireless networking industries response to all the problems brought about by WEP being compromised, and it seeks to offer strong protection that is easy to implement on the home or business level. If you have wireless networking hardware that is firmware upgradable, you may even be able to upgrade your existing WAPs and NICs to use WPA - though this will depend on individual manufacturers.

WPA uses what are called Pre-Shared Keys (PSK) which are similar to the 'passphrases' or 'shared keys' of WEP, but much more secure. As a subset of the emerging 802.11x (and 802.11i) standard, WPA has several very enticing advancements.

For starters, the session keys (PSK) are not actually used to encrypt data, but instead used to create ever changing encryption cyphers through the RC4 encryption engine. The key advancements are beyond the scope of this guide, but include 48-bit IV, Message Integrity Code (MIC), Key Detection and Distribution parameters.

Assuming manufacturers introduce firmware that enables you to update your existing WLAN hardware, the process should be no more complicated than upgrading the software and firmware on both the wireless access point and NIC, configuring a pre-shared key on the WAP, and configuring a PSK on the client PCs.

Since WPA is simply an advanced security standard, WLAN hardware still communicates in the same 2.4GHz region, though WEP and WPA cannot coexist. If used, WPA replaces WEP entirely, and that will secure your wireless networking connection to a degree that WEP has never been able to match.

If you are planning on investing in wireless networking equipment soon, ensure that it supports WPA as well as WEP. In the future, the newly ratified 802.11i wireless security standard will likely take over, merging the secure encryption of WPA with features that allow better integration with ‘wired’ network security and authentication methods.

If you have any comments or questions, please post them in the PCSTATS Forums. Find out about this and many other reviews by joining the Weekly PCSTATS Newsletter today! Catch all of PCSTATS latest hardware reviews right here.

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Contents of Article: PCSTATS
 Pg 1.  Beginners Guides: Securing A Wireless Network
 Pg 2.  Network Security vs. Wireless Security
 Pg 3.  Finding Intruders on a Network
 Pg 4.  Checking Ports and Workgroups
 Pg 5.  Checking Router Logs
 Pg 6.  Managing Network Shares
 Pg 7.  Personal Firewalls
 Pg 8.  Using Zonealarm
 Pg 9.  Securing a Router and Wireless Connection
 Pg 10.  More Steps to Securing a WLAN
 Pg 11.  Disabling DHCP on a WAP
 Pg 12.  — Wireless Protected Access: WEP Improved

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