Nothing Is Private on Open Wi-Fi

Today, most tech users know how (and why) to secure their home wireless routers. Windows 7 and Vista now pop up a dialog box to warn you when you are connecting to an unencrypted wireless network. In a coffee shop, an airport lounge, or a library, however, people frequently connect to the network without thinking twice—and though using an unencrypted connection to check a baseball score or a flight status might be acceptable, using it to read e-mail or perform any Web activity that requires a login is akin to activating your speakerphone in the middle of a crowd. So why don’t all businesses encrypt their public Wi-Fi networks? The answer lies in the difficult key distribution system in the IEEE 802.11 design specification: To encrypt traffic, the network owner or manager must first select a password, also known as a “network key.” The arrangement requires one password per network, shared among all of the users whether the owner has selected the less secure, outdated WEP or the more secure WPA or WPA2. At home, all you have to do is set up the security measures once, tell your family the password, and surf worry-free from a poolside lounge chair. In a coffee shop, the barista would have to tell each patron the password (or the 26-character hexadecimal WEP key) and perhaps even troubleshoot their connection—definitely not a chore that your typical java slinger would relish. In that situation, nothing beats a blank password for ease of use. Even if the network is encrypted, however, you’re still not fully protected. Once your computer knows the password, your communication is safe only from people who aren’t on the network; all the other customers sitting in the cafĂ© can see your traffic because they are using the same password.

Source of Information : PC World July 2010


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