Halloween Special: The Perils of Living in a Wireless World

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Everyone loves wireless. It’s a liberating technology that’s allowed us to do anything pretty much anywhere. But data flying through the air comes with additional vulnerabilities.

Considering how ubiquitous Wi-Fi is, it surprising how little most of us know about it. Here are a few random factoids to get us started. And some of them are decidedly spooky.

Spooky Fact 1 – folks talk about wireless speed in terms of bits per second – so how many zeros and ones can fly through the air. This is known as maximum data capacity & you typically see it so written as 54 Megabits per second etc. That’s cool right?

But, like a mysterious ghost story – just over half of this speed vanishes into the misty night when using Wi-Fi. What you’re left with is zombie-like throughput. That’s a scary factoid – even before any nasties attack your wireless network, you only get around half of the speed you think. The causes of this are, in no order, ghosts hiding in your router, all the bits of information added to your data to help it find its way & the fact this devilish ‘overhead’ increases the further you away from the safely of your router….well, two of these are true anyway….

Spooky Fact 2 – by adding monster names to the follow list – you can see 3 terrifying areas of danger – not just on wireless but being on wireless is the equivalent of adding scary music & this making it even scarier.

  • Devilish Physical Hardware – Dracula could easily hypnotise you then steal your device. Got a password – an easy to remember one, probably take the Prince of Darkness a few hours to crack it. (So, think the obvious physical security, keeping your devices safe plus a kick-ass password.)
  • Ghastly Software – Frankenstein isn’t as stupid as he looks. He could use loopholes in programs to do bad stuff. (This monster doesn’t like patches & updates. Get anti-virus software, keep everything updated & you can loosen this monster’s bolts.)
  • Deadly Data – Zombies could easily nick your data in transit, feasting on it as it flies through the air. (Mmm…trickier – just how do you protect data in the air? Fly spray? Read on for details….)

Spooky Fact 3 – Holy Water (WPA2) – You might recognise WPA2 from when you’ve been fiddling with your wireless router. It is a stallion of an encryption protocol with few known weaknesses at the moment. Most routers are now set default to WPA2 but it’s wise to check. Having WPA2 encryption is like having Van Diesel turning up to your wireless horror movie – fully ‘tooled up’. And he’s going help you kick a lot of ass. Does that mix enough metaphors for you?

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Right, sick of Halloween-type banter?

OK – here are 3 processes to set up. Get this right, along with all the other advice around patching, passwords & crucifixes & you’re be as secure as you can be.

  1. Set the right security protocol – remember WPA2 on your router – probably already set – it’s like holy water…
  2. Securing access – do some research & find out how to control access to your wireless access point. Might be something I look at in a future blog but check it out – you’ll come across something called MAC addresses (not your ancestral home in Scotland.)
  3. Default passwords – routers come with those tricky passwords – something like E83HHG3g21 – remember typing that is for access. For public area free Wi-Fi, you get stuff like ‘cafepassword’. This can be changed & you should do it. Again, do a bit of research. I’ll try to cover it in future blogs.

Finally, remember, just like any decent horror movie. When that nice calm bit comes at the end, you’re never 100% sure it’s over. Could the axe murderer still be alive? Could he burst through the window at any time? The truth is no medium (not the crystal ball kind) wired or wireless is 100% safe.

And, wireless still has greater risks. For example, I went into a Costa Coffee the other day & logged onto their ‘free Wi-Fi’. The password was on the front desk – anyone can use that. Blimey I’m scaring myself now so I’m going to check my stuff….stay safe out there in wireless monster land….

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