The huge increase in notebook sales (notebooks outsell desktops for the first time!!) has also caused a massive increase in related devices and services. According to the article linked above, 95% of notebooks are now coming with a wireless option which is up from 80% last year at this time. This is no doubt a direct result of the demanded feature.
This major increase in wireless comes with it security risks and there are many things to be discussed.
Toward the end of this article you will find setup procedures, equipment, and security measures you can take to help keep your information to yourself. Before we get into that I would like to share some general information in regards to what the world is coming to and the pros and cons of wireless.
Wireless is often referred to as "Wi-Fi" which stands for "Wireless-Fidelity". While the term is used in a very general way it has a meaningful background. Wireless-Fidelity Alliance is an organization that sets the standards for wireless devices and software to work together from different manufacturers. Wireless products that pass Wi-Fi Alliance testing are identified as Wi-Fi Certified.
Wherever there's an access point (term discussed below in setting up your wireless) there's a hotspot. The hotspot is the area in which you have the signal to connect to that access point. Many places provide public hotspots where you can basically get free internet and is most often provided to attract potential consumers. You usually see places like bookstores and cafes offering these services, but many are being added to the list daily. Starbucks coffee has long been a famous provider of wireless internet. Many feel it has paid off very well for them especially in college areas where study groups meet up for a coffee and discussion. Even MCDonalds is now offering it in approximately 1/5 of their 30,000+ locations worldwide and adding it to more each day. Many are interested in seeing how it works out for them and argue greasy fry fingers and keyboards don't go well, but in an attempt to keep up with the times nobody is denying this is quite an effort.
|Top 10 Wifi hotspot countries in the world according to jwire's database:
Wireless hotspot locators:
These hotspots can be utilized by basically anyone with a notebook or phone equipped with Wi-Fi. The connection is usually done using broadband or T1s and is a shared connection. Being shared, the speed you get on your web browsing and downloads depends on not only their bandwidth package, but how many people are using it at that time.
Wireless connection speed standards
802.11 standards are set by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers)
1997. It had a 2Mbps maximum speed and is no longer used.
1999. It has a 54Mbps maximum speed, but limited range and easily blocked.
1999. It has a 11Mbps maximum speed and much greater range than the 802.11a.
a vs b- 802.11b was much more popular because of the better connection even though its maximum speed was lower. The range of 802.11a and cost had most people from the begining going the 802.11b route. 802.11a operates at 5GHz while 802.11b operates at 2.4GHz
2003. It has a 54Mbps maximum speed and the range of the 802.11b while using the 2.4GHz operating frequency. 802.11g is backwards compatible with 802.11b and is a highly used standard.
There are other versions utilizing the 802.11g standard that have developed into an increased maximum speed of 108Mbps. They are called different names depending on the company that makes it and range from "802.11g turbo" to "802.11 extreme g" and a few others. Basically what they've done to my understanding is set the wireless to connect across two 54Mbps channels. It doubles the speed, but drops the amount of available channels for clients to connect to when enabled which is often an auto detect feature.
You will often find multiple standard equipment labeled like b+a or a+b+g meaning they work with all. Most would suggest to only seek out the 802.11g. With 802.11g being compatible on both -g and -b standards you will likely never see a problem connecting to a Wi-Fi network you need to.
One thing many don't stop to think about or realize is their standard is rated at maximum speed which the user may be getting only a fraction of. While 802.11g is rated at a maximum of 54Mbps, it has different speed steps it connects at depending on your signal strength: 54, 48, 36, 24, 18, 12, 11, 6, 5.5, 2, 1 Mbps usually. Your signal strength depends mostly on distance from the access point to the device and what's inbetween the access point and device.
What do the speeds mean to you? 108Mbps stands for mega-bits per second, not to be confused with MBps which is Mega-bytes per second. Some quick facts here:
- There are 8 bits in a byte
- Connections are usually listed in bits
- Download speeds on your Windows OS computer usually show in bytes so they will look 8 times less by numeric value
An average high speed internet connection (broadband) from your cable or DSL company would be around a 512Kbps download and a 256Kbps upload speed. 1Mbps=1024Kbps, so if max distance from your wireless access point gets your 1Mbps still of your 108Mpbs max, you're still twice what your broadband service is rated at. So, your Wi-Fi will rarely even be your internet bottleneck. A T1 will get you 1.544Mbps down and up and a T1 can hold 24 phone calls at the same time to give you an idea of the size and bandwidth of it. There are 28 T1s in a T3 so even a T3 will not touch the capable bandwidth of 108Mbps wireless. If using your wireless for just internet, you're probably not going to have any near the need of the full 108Mbps wireless can provide you. Where the 108Mbps comes in handy is file sharing. If you have two computers on the network (hopefully both authorized to be there ) you can transfer files across the network from one computer to another quickly.
Illegal wireless usage
The wireless hotspot locators listed above are for use to find wireless networks to connect to that allow public access. Going beyond that and connecting to networks you are not authorized to use is considered illegal activity.
Most of us know when you're in a highly populated residential area and you search for wireless networks to connect to there is often a list that comes up showing everyone in the neighborhood using wireless. Randomly connecting to them is illegal. The purpose of this article is not to condone such activities, but rather to give people the information and tools to make sure they are aware of the risks and understand every detail about wireless they can.
While using the OS or software that comes with your wireless device shows networks you are not authorized to use, there are also programs designed just for that. These programs out there used to detect wireless networks are for "testing" purposes. People driving around detecting these hotspots are doing what is called "wardriving". When people use these programs to connect to networks they are not authorized to use they are using the software against it's terms and breaking the law. The most famous of these programs is called Netstumbler. People sometimes use detection software to get into wireless networks and illegally use them for either free internet or to get into other computers on the network and steal information or software.
Wireless notebook gaming
The 802.11x standards are used flawlessly in many applications for a wireless connection. They have just as fast downloading and web browsing as they would using a non wireless LAN connection. With gaming though some avoid wireless. Gaming on a wireless connection will increase your latency (ping) and a higher chance of packet loss, two of the most important issues in regards to a gaming connection especially with online FPS (first person shooter) games. With MMORPG games the connection can vary a bit and not affect gameplay, but with FPS games every little bit can count if you're very serious about getting your sites dialed in perfectly.
Wireless security - what you can do
1) Enable WPA!!!!
The two main security standards most people are familiar with are WEP and WPA(Wi-fi Protected Access). They both can not be enabled together on a network and WPA is far better than WEP. WEP and WPA both encrypt and decrypt data on the network so it's not so easily intercepted. Where WPA stands above WEP is that WEP uses a static key to encrypt and WPA encrypts dynamically by each packet of data which they call Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP).
WPA came out in the middle of 2004 and is compatible with Windows XP SP2.
You also need to make sure your access point is WPA to be able to use it. To enable it, you will need to follow the instructions in your manual. They can vary by device.
2) Don't broadcast your SSID and change default password!!!!
Some access points/routers are set to broadcast your SSID (Service Set Identifier) by default, you can disable this and you should also change it from the default name assigned to it by the manufacturer.
You have to change the default PW. Many people know the default PW of most brands. If they get access to your wireless, they can log into your router and change the configurations and set the PW themselves locking you out!
These procedures vary by device and can be looked up in the manual on how to do it.
3) Enable MAC address filtering!!!!
This requires any computer on the network to have a matching mac address. This is something you will find broadband companies do when you set up service. They enter the mac address of your modem so the network allows it to connect. Every device such as a computer should have its own individual MAC address. Just like the above, you will need to refer to your manual for the procedures since each brand varies.
Wi-Fi devices - wireless setup help
Some people get confused by Wi-Fi 802.11x wireless into thinking if it's installed in their computer, they automatically have internet access just turning it on. This is not the case, the wireless card in your computer is one side of the communication, you also need another side to talk to which is the "access point". In a typical home wireless network, for example- cable internet, you have the coax cable coming in, which connects to your modem that often the cable company provides, then the modem will have a cat 5 output that plugs into your router/access point.
There are two main types of wireless setups for notebooks:
Is built into the notebook and usually has an antenna running through the chassis along the LCD.
Is a universal card that plugs into the PCMCIA slot of the notebook (notebooks with type II PCMCIA slot).
Most people choose the integrated wireless as it's designed internal and specifically for the notebook it's in. Reception usually leans towards the internal card from my experience. If the internal wireless doesn't provide the standard you're looking for you may not have a choice. The reason people choose the PCMCIA version sometimes is if they want to use the same card on another notebook they sometimes use that doesn't have internal wireless. The PCMCIA card sticks out the side and often gets pretty warm leaving it a far off second choice.
-Modem (click picture to enlarge)
Pictured below is a standard modem the cable company provides. You can see the MAC address labeled on it. Just like you can set up security to filter mac addresses in your wireless router to only let specific computers on your wireless network, the cable company does the same thing to allow your modem on their network. The ports on the back labeled "telephony" is a newer thing cable companies are starting to do which is providing phone service through them and the cable line instead of the phone line. For your basic network, you only need 3 things plugged in here: 1) the coax cable coming from the wall/cable company 2) power and 3) the outgoing ethernet cable (typically cat 5 with RJ45 connectors) which goes to your router/access point.
-Router/Access point (click picture to enlarge)
Below is your router/access point. They can vary by ports, but this is a common one from Linksys. It has the LAN ports you can plug computers into and also works as the wireless access point. For the basic wireless network you are going to have 2 things plugged in here: 1) power and 2) the ethernet cable from the modem listed above (the cat 5 cable). The other 4 ports you see you can plug other computers, printers (that have networking built in) and hubs for even more computers. The ports are for ethernet cables also, same as the one going from the modem to the router/access point. So at this point, the modem above is talking with the cable company through the coax line and talking to this device (access point/router) through the ethernet cable. This device then talks to the computers through more ethernet cables going to the computers and/or through wireless if the computers have wireless set up.
-Wireless card (click picture to enlarge)
Below is a picture of the wireless PCMCIA device that plugs into the PCMCIA type II port if the notebook is equipped with that port. Remember, this card is not needed if you already have built in wireless (integrated/internal). For a picture example of that, click here
To see an example of what the wireless PCMCIA card looks like out of the notebook, click here
Keep in mind, you can also use the wireless with desktops, there are many devices you can get that will make the desktop work with the above access point. Typically these devices are plugged into a USB port and the main reason people use them is to avoid running ethernet cable through the house and walls. Here's an example of one from Linksys
Below is the basic layout for a wireless network using cable broadband internet (click picture to enlarge).
Once you're set up, you need to refer to the security features to enable mentioned above while following the instructions on how to enable them in your manuals.
The basic set up on your notebook using Windows XP is as follows:
Open up "My Network Places" and click "View Network Connections".
Right click on your "Wireless Network Connection" and make sure it's enabled then go to "View Available Wireless Networks". At that point you'll see a list. You need to highlight yours and check the box allowing you to connect and apply.
Your system will then have a signal strength indicator in the tray showing your connection speed.
Some devices you may need to install their software depending on the OS you're running, but most devices you will not need to with Windows XP SP2 running. It should auto detect and install.
Don't connect to random networks because not only is it illegal, but you're giving them access to your computer also. You can pick up a virus on their network from one of their computers. Also, there's tricks people play one called "Evil Twin" where they will put out a signal for you to detect hoping you connect to it. You think you're connecting to a wireless network, but you're actually connecting directly to another computer they are using to get your information and basically have their way with your system.
Hopefully from this you will better understand your risks when using wireless networks and also what you can do to protect your info.
This is another thrown together bit of info I thought people might find of use. If there's anything I missed or someone would like to add or correct, feel free to do so.