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eXTReMe Tracker - Wired Equivalent Privacy
Wi-Fi uses radio waves to transmit information. These waves can penetrate the walls of your house or apartment. They are then up for grabs.

Hackers take advantage of unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Some, called war drivers, drive around neighborhoods looking for open networks. Some are just keeping score, but others may attempt to access your personal data.

By following four basic steps, you can keep your information safe and the bad guys out.

1. Stop broadcasting to the world. By default, most access points send a short message repeating the network's name. The network's name is called the SSID (Service Set Identifier). Anybody who lives (or drives) nearby can easily detect that you have a wireless network, find its name and jump onto it. By disabling the SSID broadcast, you are no longer telling the world around you that you have a wireless network.

Additionally, rename the SSID. Don't use your name or something easily identifiable.

2. Change the password on your access point. Default passwords are common knowledge. If unchanged, it takes only minutes to figure out the proper password.

When you change the password, make sure you use a combination of numbers and letters. The most secure are alphanumeric combinations, such as 3nO7tY5. However, such combinations are difficult to remember. At the least, try not to choose an obvious password (last name, street name, dog's name, etc.).

3. Use encryption. There are two standards of encryption. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is an older and less secure method. It uses a non-changing 64- or 128-bit key. Although it's not the best encryption, it is better than nothing.

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) uses 256-bit encryption, which is much harder to decode. WPA is also dynamic--it's constantly changing. By the time a hacker breaks the key, it will have changed. If you're buying new gear, insist on WPA.

Even if you have old equipment, you may be able to get WPA through a firmware update. Firmware is software written on a chip inside a piece of hardware. Check your manufacturer's Web site.

Encryption does have a downside--it can slow your network. But that is preferable to a lack of security.

4. Enable Media Access Control (MAC) filtering. Media Access Control is an address assigned to each wireless card. All wireless devices have unique MAC addresses. The address includes six sets of paired characters and is usually printed on the back of your wireless card.

MAC filtering tells your access point to grant access only to MAC addresses you enter.

You can do your own security check after implementing these measures. Install the free program NetStumbler ( onto a laptop or PDA. This program will detect open Wi-Fi networks. After installing the program, walk around the outside of your house with your portable to see what a hacker may see. It shouldn't detect anything.

Even after locking down your Wi-Fi network, it's still somewhat vulnerable. A determined hacker can eventually break down any security walls. But by taking preventive measures, you can make it difficult. Probably, the hacker will just move on.

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