Wireless networking has become the standard in homes and small offices. A wireless network eliminates cable clutter; makes it easy to move computers, printers, scanners, and other devices to convenient places as needed; and provides visitors with quick access to the Internet and other network resources. Here's how it all works…
Creating a Wireless Network
Here's a typical scenario... Let's say you have a computer in your living room, and it's plugged directly into your cable or dsl modem. But you just got a second computer or laptop, which you want to use (and go online with) at the other end of the house. Instead of running 50 feet of thick, ugly cabling all through the house, connect that second computer wirelessly. Now you want to share a printer, so that both computers can print to it. Place that printer anywhere in the house, no wires needed, if you have a printer that can connect wirelessly.
To make all this possible, all you need is a cable/dsl modem with a wireless router built-in, or you can buy a wireless router and plug it into your modem. The router broadcasts a radio signal that enables two-way communication between the router and devices equipped with wireless network adapters. As mentioned before, those devices can be desktop computers, laptops, printers, iPods or mobile phones.
Wireless networking allows all those gizmos to share both files and an Internet connection. If your computer doesn't have a wireless adapter built-in, you can easily add one that plugs into a USB port.
So what's the difference between wired and wireless networking? None really, except that the wires aren't there. If you pretend that the devices on your wireless network are connected with an invisible wire, it's all the same. Only a few demanding applications, such as real-time playback of high-definition video, still need a hardwired network which can transfer data at higher speeds.
Wireless Network Security
A router can also control access to the wireless network, so that only your family or staff can use it. Access control in a wireless router is turned off when the router arrives from the factory, allowing any device with a wireless adapter to connect to the router and other devices with which the router communicates.
That can be good, or not. When I first got high-speed Internet, the company supplied a wireless network router. I never thought about checking the settings, because I wasn't using any wireless devices. But soon after, I did notice people parking in front of my house for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. I couldn't figure out why, but finally it dawned on me... they were mooching off my wireless internet signal.
The first thing you should do is configure your router to allow access only to authorized users. This can be done in a couple of ways.
You can enable WEP or WPA encryption on the router and create a "network key" or password that will be required of any device that attempts to log on to the network. This is a flexible, open way to manage access to a wireless network. You can give the password to visitors if you want them to have access. You can change the password any time you like. But hackers can, with considerable effort, divine any password.
Another security method is to allow only a known group of devices to have access. Often, this is done using the MAC address built into most digital devices. A list of MAC addresses can be stored in the router, and it can require each device to identify itself by its MAC address before allowing it access. The downside of this scheme is that visitors cannot log themselves onto the network. The system administrator would have to add the MAC address of a visitor's computer to the router's list.
The router is not the only security checkpoint on a wireless network. Each computer connected to a wireless network must be configured to share files stored on it, and/or printers and other devices attached to it. This computer-level security is a second line of defense against hackers, and it also gives each user on the network control over his or her data and local devices. Sharing is controlled through your computer's operating system; in Windows, "File and Printer Sharing" is the module to look for. You can also right-click on a device or file folder's icon to change its sharing properties.
A wireless network can be quite secure if it is properly configured to allow access only to authorized users. But if you don't take the time to change the default settings of a wireless router, your network will be wide open to anyone within its broadcast range.
Do you have something to say about wireless networking? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 23 Jan 2010
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Wireless Networking (Posted: 23 Jan 2010)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved