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Wi-Fi myths that can compromise computer security

(MoneyWatch) As any IT manager (or crewmember on the Battlestar Galactica) can tell you, wireless networks are inherently less secure than wired networks. A cyber-criminal doesn't even have to gain physical access to your home or office to compromise a wireless network; they can be parked in a car 100 feet away.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of bad information out there about how to keep your Wi-Fi network safe and secure. I found some common these myths cataloged over at How-To Geek. Here are the important points to remember:

Hide your SSID. It seems like every Wi-Fi security article I read directs you to hide your SSID, which is the display name of the wireless network. If someone scans your premises and nothing appears in the list of available networks, the thinking appears to be that you can't be compromised. Unfortunately, this is laughably naive. Hiding your SSID only makes it harder for you to find and connect to your own network. It does nothing -- and I do mean absolutely nothing -- to slow down any competent criminal, hacker or "wardriver" (someone who drives around looking for wireless networks). Don't bother hiding your SSID; it has no effect except to complicate your own life and offer a false sense of security.

Encryption methods are interchangeable. Anyone who tells you that that it's less important which Wi-Fi encryption method you choose and that any protection is better than nothing may well want to break into your network. It's true that so-called WEP encryption will indeed keep out toddlers and people who don't own any kind of computer, but this oldest and least secure form of wireless security was cracked and rendered obsolete years ago. The only reason router manufacturers continue to include it at all is that some very old computer hardware isn't compatible with newer encryption standards. But ignore WEP: You should be securing your network with WPA2.

Using a static IP address can foil hackers. You might have heard that letting your router use its integrated DHCP server, which dishes out IP addresses to any device that knows the Wi-Fi password, is inherently insecure. And that's true, after a fashion. But the alternative -- configuring your router to work with static IP addresses -- isn't really any better. If a hacker can spoof his way onto your network, he can rig his PC for a static IP address. It's not rocket science. Like telling your router to hide your SSID, this is a tip that just makes your own life more difficult without offering any real protection.

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