Wireless networking is almost a “must-have” technology for small business. Weather you have a professional office, a retail business or a home business, you deserve to have a secured wireless network! Below, I am going to explain some of the network protocols and help you avoid some common mistakes made setting up a wireless network for your business.
First, you will need a wireless router. My focus is small business, so I will skip over the industrial CISCO routers and focus primarily on small business routers. Routers can be purchased online or from office supply or computer store’s. And quite frankly, some of these small business routers can perform some very advanced functions as do the expensive routers.
My favorite small business routers is NETGEAR. I have installed and currently manage several Netgear routers and they work superbly and can be purchased locally for under $200.00.
Security Wireless Protocol’s:
Wireless networking protocols are security protocols so that your data is transferred to and from the router encrypted. It is very important to ensure that your network is secure so that unwanted guests do not stumble upon your data and/or network.
The Wi-Fi Alliance creates standardized security algorithms for limiting access to wireless networks. They also set standards for encrypting and securing the data sent across the wireless network.
WEP – The Wired Equivalent Privacy – WEP encryption standard was the original encryption standard for wireless, but since 2004 the WEP Standard has been declared “deprecated.” We highly recommend that you NOT use the WEP standard due to the ease of cracking the security.
WPA – Wi-Fi Protected Access – WPA was developed to replace WEP. It became a standard in 2003.
- TKIP encryption to WEP’s key, making it more secure (amongst other new security features). Flaws were exposed in TKIP encryption, so WPA2 was developed as the successor to WPA.
- WPA2 – Wi-Fi Protected Access v2 (WPA2) is the current security standard that all wireless networks should use. WPA2 added support for a much stronger encryption method, AES. WPA2 is the current security standard that all wireless networks should use.
Wireless Security Standard Modes: PSK – Pre-Shared Key Mode (PSK) In PSK mode, there is a common key / password shared between all wireless hosts. The user must enter this key to connect to the wireless network (or if the computer remembered the key, it can provide it on it’s own). All of the above encryption methods support this mode of operation. It is simple to setup since it just requires a common password to access the network, however it’s security is somewhat limited:
- Everyone that needs to connect to the network typically knows the password (or finds it out over time). The more people that know the password, the higher the chance of someone loosing it and getting to someone that shouldn’t have it (for example, a student or visitor with bad intentions).
- The key is subject to simple brute force attacks. Most people choose simple words that are easy to remember for keys. For example, the school’s mascot, a phone number, or something similar. If the key cannot simply be guess by a hacker, then there are a variety of tools that can run dictionary attacks on the network to try to get in. If you make the key complicated by making it a random string of letters and numbers, then no one will remember it and it will end up written down and easily copied by someone with bad intent.
Limitations of Wireless Networking
One of the primary limitations of wireless networking is network speed. Currently, a wired CAT5 speed is 100 Mbps, CAT 6 is 1000 Mbps and “N” wireless is >100 Mbps. So, as you see, a well connected gigabit CAT6 network will deliver your data much faster than wireless. Most older buildings are set up with older CAT5 network cable and you will not notice a performance decrease with “N” wireless. If you are working with large files such as graphics, CAD or video, then you may want to invest in a CAT6 cable infrastucture. I find that for most small offices, your “N” wireless connections are more than enough to move data around on the network.
Security is a major concern on wireless networks as it should be. Out of the box wireless routers have a generic password at login as well as “open” network. The open network allows a plug and play capability for those that do not wish to set up the router. However, modern wireless routers have some great security features that should be addressed.
• Your wireless router can act as a firewall and block potential internet attacks.
• Routers can be set up to act as a DHCP server. A DHCP server can handle many devices wired or wireless.
• Routers can block unwanted web sites from being accessed.
• Routers can be configured to enable “guest” networks. Allowing your customers to use the internet without allowing access to your internal business network. One last comment on security, PLEASE remember be very carefull when accessing public WiFi networks with your personal computer or tablet. A public network is just that: a PUBLIC Network!
As with wired networking, there are risks and rewards to networking your business environment. Today, with all of the modern devices such as tablets, iPhones, laptops it is almost impossible to avoid going wireless in the office. Many of your customers are becoming accustomed to having wireless internet access in waiting rooms and retail shops. If you are at all unsure how to effectively secure and configure your wireless access, you may want to consult a professional.