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Securing Wi-Fi Networks Doesn't Have To Be Painful

Years ago, in a strip drawn by the great cartoonist Walt Kelly, the characters were following a set of mysterious footprints through the swamp in which they lived. Finally, one of the characters, Pogo, a little opossum, realized that the footprints were their own. That's when he made his much quoted statement, "We have met the enemy," he declared, "and he is us."

To a great extent, it's the same scenario with wireless security today. The problem isn't exactly the technology—the problem is us. We want to be conveniently safe.

Finding the middle ground between security and convenience can be tricky. You can design a wireless network to be quite secure, but doing so can make it hard to use. On the other hand, you can design it so that it's really easy to use, but then it's not completely safe. This conundrum has been acknowledged by the industry, of course, and that's why wireless security issues are big topics with vendors at recent trade shows including Interop and RSA.

Fortunately though you don't have to pick ease of use over security, or vice versa. The right balance depends on what you're trying to accomplish. I was reminded of this recently when visiting two people. One, my daughter, is a teacher who (like teachers everywhere) does a lot of her work at home. She has to protect the information about her students from prying eyes. The other is a friend who runs a small business from her home. She has a server that holds client information, business records and accounting information. This information needs to be protected carefully.

The thing is, both want to use wireless networks. When they asked me about protecting things, I led them through some steps that I'll share with you. These steps will be a little less convenient than just using plain ol' naked wireless. But they won't be all that bad.

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