Sound off: Why you need wireless protection

Here are five good reasons, says Preston Gralla

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Even worse was perhaps biggest data breach in history, when hackers stole 45.6 million credit and debit card numbers over a year and a half from The TJX Companies Inc. Once again, poor wireless security at a single access point was at fault. Hackers sat outside a Marshalls discount clothing store in St. Paul, Minn. Using a directional antenna and cracking software, they intercepted data being sent over the store's wireless network, which was protected by notoriously easy-to-crack WEP encryption, rather than the stronger WPA.

Once they broke into the small, local network, they gained access to TJX's main corporate network and stole the 45.6 million records over the next 18 months. (See "How to protect your wireless network" for details on how to turn on WPA encryption on your network.)

Reason No. 3: The recording industry may sue you

What's the difference between the Mafia and the recording industry? The recording industry uses the courts rather than Big Guido as an enforcer.

As we all know, for the past several years, the recording and entertainment industry has used the courts to sue many people who the industry claims were illegally sharing or downloading copyrighted music and other digital files.

But what's less well known is that they're also trying to convince the courts that even if someone piggybacks onto your network and does the illegal download, you should be liable for the copyright infringement. Which means you'll have to hire a lawyer or get ready to pay through the nose.

How outrageous are some of these suits? Consider this one: A Brooklyn woman, Marie Lindor, was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for illegally downloading music even though she didn't own a computer and had never used one. Her son used to live at home but took his laptop with him when he left. However, he apparently left behind a wireless router that was not protected. Someone piggybacked onto it and downloaded copyrighted files. So the RIAA went after Lindor.

So if you don't want the RIAA goons at your door and don't want to have to pay a high-priced lawyer to defend you, protect your network.

Reason No. 4: It's the bandwidth, stupid

Got enough bandwidth? Of course you don't. The most basic rule of networking is that no matter your upload and download speeds, they're not fast enough. So how would you like sharing your measly bandwidth with strangers and neighbors, especially those who want to suck up all your bandwidth by downloading multigigabyte movies?

As the parent of any teen can attest, bandwidth gets sucked up pretty quickly by file sharing. So why let the entire world use your precious bandwidth? Instead, protect your network against bandwidth vampires.

Reason No. 5: It's vital to protect your privacy

If someone gains access to your home or small-office wireless network, they may be able to gather enormous amounts of information about you. Do you store any personal or financial records on a PC attached to your network? If so, they're at risk if you don't take the right precautions. So if you worry about identity theft or simply don't want someone poking around your PCs, make sure to turn on protection.

Editor's note: Ready for the opposing view? Read "Why worry about wireless?"

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor to Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works, (Que, 2006).

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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