Why secure a wireless network?  What are the consequences if I don't?

If you are thinking right now that you have nothing important on your network and that you have no need to secure your wireless network, I guarantee you that you will reconsider your opinion after reading the next few paragraphs. Consider the following dangers of having an unsecured wireless network.

Reviewing your Internet Service Provider's Terms of Service typically reveals a clause that holds the customer responsible for any activities the connection is
(ab)used for.

How can an intruder connect to my wireless network?
What most people don't realize about consumer wireless networks is that they are designed for quick and easy access, allowing the consumer to get on the internet wirelessly without any complicated setup or configuration. But just as it is easy for you to connect, it is just as easy for anyone else. An intruder could park their car within a few hundred feet of your house and utilizing a laptop and your wireless internet connection has the ability to do any of the following:

Bandwidth Parasite
In a "best" case scenario, all the intruder does is use the victim's broadband connection to get online without paying. Maybe just to surf the web, maybe to download pirated music or software. This does not cause any direct harm to the compromised network, but it can slow down Internet or network access for the victim, the legitimate user of the network, if an intruder leeches off his bandwidth. This could mean substantial additional ISP (Internet Service Provider) cost for the victim if the ISP meters used bandwidth and charges for actual usage.

Masking criminal activity An unauthorized user could abuse the victim's connection for malicious purposes like hacking, making fraudulent purchases, or distributing illegal material. Since the intruder is connected to the victim's network, if the criminal activity is discovered and investigated, the origin of the attack will be traced back to the victim's broadband account. It is a pretty safe bet that nobody wants to be accused of and go to jail for distributing child pornography or hacking into restricted company or government networks (just to mention a few examples) if the crime was in reality committed by a cracker from behind an innocent victim's network. Reviewing ISP's Terms of Service usually reveals a clause that not only allows the ISP to reveal customer information to the authorities to assist with legitimate criminal investigations, but also holds the customer responsible for any activities the connection is (ab)used for.

Free access to private data
The intruder can completely take advantage of an unsecured wireless network by snooping around undisturbed and getting access to confidential data and internet browsing history. This could be in form of personal information such as financial data, tax records, wills, and more that can be abused for identity theft for example, or in the form of work-related information such as confidential specs, development information, trade secrets, and more that the victim has brought home from the office. By employing a sniffer an intruder can even sniff email or FTP user names and passwords because they are usually transmitted in clear text, and use that information to gain unauthorized access to email accounts or web servers without the victim's knowledge.

The next page explains what steps can be implemented to protect your wireless network.

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