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Steve Habben, Internet technician at GRM Networks, focuses this month’s Tech Talk on the importance of Wi-Fi security.

The wireless router has become an integral part in the daily function of a home or business. Choosing the correct encryption standard is an important first step to protecting data and devices as well as ensuring their optimum operating ability.

“The old standard was ‘open’ which meant your network was not encrypted and not secure,” said Habben. “The next standard was Wired Equivalent Privacy or WEP. This is a low level of security used by older routers and was the accepted standard years ago. However, Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA 2) is available today and it is considered the best encryption standard to use.”

Customers often ask Habben if it is necessary to have Wi-Fi encryption because they feel their rural location negates the need. Besides the benefits of a secure network, Habben says encryption also helps the connection between the modem, router and Wi-Fi device. “When the device has encryption, I believe the connection is stronger, more stable and more likely to stay connected,” said Habben.

Establishing an Encrypted Network

Habben notes that some older wireless routers still use WEP, leaving those routers vulnerable to wireless hacking. Regardless of the make, model, or year of the router, he strongly urges customers to select the WPA 2 encryption. “Users may experience issues connecting to a Wi-Fi Network after security changes have been made,” says Habben. “If this happens, try manually reconnecting using your Wi-Fi password. The system thinks it is a new connection, which is the case, because of the security change.”

Habben says some devices will work smooth and others may not. “It might take time for everything to work, says Habben. “If this is the case, it is a good time to reset the network.” To check Wi-Fi security standards and connections, Habben suggests the following link: https://gogogate.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/how-to-check-wifi-security-encryption-type/

When establishing a wireless network, Habben encourages customers to use WPA 2 as the encryption option. “Once this is selected, customers will next choose between two encryption methods,” says Habben. “Newer wireless routers carry settings for Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Always ensure AES is an option as it is newer than TKIP. Both encryption methods are used in the 2.4 GHz frequency band and usually only AES is used with the 5 GHz frequency band. (Frequency bands were the topic of December’s Tech Talk with channels 1, 6 and 11 recommended for use on the 2.4 GHz band to avoid overlapping or Wi-Fi interference.)

Conveniences at a Risk

In today’s ‘connected’ world, to access data, programs or other information a user name and password are needed. While it saves time, Habben advises not to leave default user names and login passwords entered in devices. “This is leaving your network wide open for hackers,” says Habben. He extends this caution to camera systems, baby monitors, modems, routers or anything that requires set up, login or allows users to change the settings.

Another convenience he cautions is free public Wi-Fi. It is available in many places such as airports, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, public transit, hotel rooms and many other entities. It provides convenience to access online accounts, catch up on work and check emails while on the go, however, Habben warns users to heed the privacy and security risks it holds. “The average free public Wi-Fi connection isn’t secure,” says Habben. “Just because you may need a password to log in doesn’t mean your online activities are encrypted.”

There are many reasons why public Wi-Fi leaves users vulnerable. “One reason is the encryption protocol used by some wireless networks,” says Habben. “Another has to do with the possibility of joining a fake or rogue Wi-Fi hotspot.” Even though some public Wi-Fi might be encrypted, some wireless networks use older standards for encryption which themselves raise security risks.

Habben says the best way to protect personal information is to avoid accessing sensitive information or performing sensitive transactions while connected to public Wi-Fi.

Stick With “https”

“Only browse websites that start with ‘https’ and avoid websites that start with ‘http’ while on public Wi-Fi,” says Habben. “Website addresses that begin with https are encrypted, adding an extra layer of security and making browsing more secure.” He adds, “Connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi network while using ‘http’ instead of ‘https’ enables user’s traffic to be visible to anyone else on the network.”

Habben encourages users to exercise good common sense when using public Wi-Fi and accessing web sites. “With all the things going on these days one can never be too cautious,” said Habben.