Wireless networks are everywhere. You’ll find them in airports, trains, cafe’s, businesses, homes, and many other places. Consumers commonly work with sensitive data on the internet such as financial records, medical records, and sensitive emails. Since wireless networks have become so common, it’s important to understand why you should encrypt your wireless network as well as the risks that surface when you choose to leave your wireless network unsecured.
In the realm of networking, there are many vectors for attack on open wireless networks. It is substantially easier for someone to gain unauthorized access to your computer and files if they are on your network with you. In addition, it is possible that the attacker will analyze the traffic on your network, allowing him to see what sites you visit and to potentially steal your credentials for various sites. Other risks you face are less serious, but still aggravating and difficult to mitigate. The attacker on your network may choose not to gain access to your computer or analyze your traffic, but instead perform a denial of service attack. This type of attack floods the network (or just your computer if that’s the case) with requests, making it incredibly difficult and in most cases impossible to access the internet and network.
Setting up your wireless network to incorporate encryption isn’t hard, and in most cases will only take a few minutes. Every wireless router has a different method to change the settings for your network, and once you know how to access those settings, it’s a matter of a few clicks and typing in a password. WEP encryption should never be used to encrypt a wireless network. The encryption can be cracked very easily with the right tools and usually in less than 3 minutes. WPA and WPA2 are currently the best choices for wireless encryption; WPA2 being the better option of the two.
These are just a few examples of situations that may occur when using an open wireless network. There are many more exploits, attacks, and security issues that surface when using a network that is not encrypted, so I encourage you to do some research if you’re curious to find out what other problems open networks present.