Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Misconceptions About Wireless Networks

10 Common Misconceptions About Wireless Networks

Most of us don’t know our AES from our MIMO. In a world so technical, so jargon-rich, it’s easy to see how networking myths start. Networking isn’t the simplest of things to discuss, and for the average Internet user it’s probably not on their mind at all until their network goes down, or they experience an intrusion.
Today, we’re going to bring networking to the forefront, and discuss 10 of the most widespread misconceptions about your home Wi-Fi network. This assumes some knowledge with networking, so if you need a networking primer, we’ve got you covered.

Wireless Networks Aren’t Secure

What this should actually say is that wireless networks aren’t as secure as wired networks. While this is true, and it’d be a difficult point to argue against. But, maybe the question shouldn’t be which is more secure. Maybe it should be whether Wi-Fi is secure enough?
And to that, the answer is… it depends.
A properly-secured wireless router is adequate for all but the most high-security needs. For the average household, Wi-Fi is more than fine and any network with a secure password and WPA2-PSK with AES encryption are going to be more than adequate.
Remember, intrusions into a home Wi-Fi network are rarely caused by actual brute force breaches. The most common cause? Weak and predictable passwords.

Wired Networks Are Always Better

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to argue that a wired network isn’t fasterthan its wireless counterpart. The major trade-off here is in convenience; it’s just more convenient to avoid remaining tethered to a wall.
When it comes to speed, blazing-fast standards like 802.11ac and always-improving router technologies have narrowed the gap considerably. With 802.11g, 54Mbps was the stated maximum speed. In practice, it’s far less than that.
802.11ac has stated combined speeds of more than 3200Mbps (and practical transfer speeds of around the gigabyte mark). The removal of the router bottleneck all but eliminates the benefits of a wired network – at least as it pertains to speed.
Where wired still prevails, is in both security and reduced environmental degradation.
Without physical access to the router, one can’t just connect to a wired network – so it is more secure in that sense.
Environmental concerns, however, remain a reality. A wired connection simply doesn’t have to compete for airspace like Wi-Fi does.

You Should Disable Your Router’s DHCP Server / Limit Your Router’s IP Address Pool

Every device on your network is assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Your router’s Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP) server assigns and sends this IP information.
The idea is – by limiting the number of IP addresses available to your network, you can keep unauthorized devices from joining.
The other persistent falsehood is that you can disable the DHCP server and manually assign IP addresses to each device. That’s not to say this won’t work, but it’s not foolproof either.
For example, if a hacker has already accessed your network, he can then use an IP scanner to determine the range. Or, he can find the IP addresses you’ve already assigned and create a compatible address to gain full access to your network.
The best way to go about restricting unknown wireless devices from joining your network is to have enable MAC filtering.

More Antennas = Better Speeds

One of the most persistent router myths is that more antennas is always better. All antennas aren’t created equal. Some antennas aren’t even visible. For example, the new Google OnHub router doesn’t even have an external antenna.
OnHub Wireless Router from Google and TP-LINK 
Get smooth streaming and speedy downloads thanks to innovative antennas and smart software.
Price: $276.99
When it comes to routers, it’s not the number of antennas, but how you use them. Design, amplification, placement and build quality are far more important factors. If a router isn’t placed in an ideal location, then sure, the extra antennas will help make up coverage. But with a bit of wireless Feng Shui, you can achieve roughly the same results on any router.
But I can’t lie, the D-Link AC3200 Ultra and its 6-antenna design is undeniably cool.
D-Link AC3200 Ultra Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router (DIR-890L/R) 
Ultimate Wi-Fi Performance: Stream HD multimedia across your home without interruption using ridiculously fast wired and wireless speeds
Price: Too low to display

My ISP Is Cheating Me Out of Speed I Pay For

Of all misconceptions, this might be the most common.
The easiest target for this speed-related anger is the ISP, but is it their fault? Not usually.
More often than not, the rub comes from a breakdown in communication between ISP and client in how stated speeds are advertised.
The client “thinks” they’re paying for 100 Mbps, and are understandably upset when they receive less than that. Thing is, you’ll rarely receive your stated speeds on a wireless network.
In the first misconception (above) we talked about wired versus wireless networks. Remember, wireless networks experience environmental degradation – mostly from competing devices in the area.
Because of the inability to accurately predict Wi-Fi speeds, ISPs base stated speeds on ethernet-connected devices – not Wi-Fi.

Increasing Transmit Power Improves Speed/Coverage – or – Decreasing Transmit Power Reduces Spillage and Prevents Hacking

Higher power does indeed improve speed and coverage, to an extent. Most people, however, just assume more power is always better, which is what causes problems.
First of all, it’s important to understand that we’re talking about a miniscule amount of power to begin with, and increasing it could actually cause more problems.
According to popular open source router firmware maker, Tomato:
“Transmit Power: Sets the transmit power in milliwatts. High settings may cause nonlinearity in the transmitter causing loss of data, interference to other users and channels, and a high “noise floor”. It may also overheat and shorten the life of the transmitter. Tomato default is 42mW, using 84mW is usually safe.”
As for decreasing power, it’s unnecessary. You may actually weaken the coverage within your own home and inadvertently cause wireless dead zones. Spillage isn’t a real problem, and hackers with antennas don’t need this spillage to crack your network.

Hiding SSID Makes You Invisible to Hackers

Every wireless network has a name assigned to it in the form of a Service Set Identifier (SSID). Many think that preventing your router from broadcasting this information makes them invisible to hackers. It’s not true.
Even when your SSID is invisible to most, PCs running Windows 7 or later can still see every device in range, even those without an assigned SSID. They can’t identify them by name, but they do appear.
Additionally, PC World warns:
“You can prevent your router from including its SSID in its beacon, but you can’t stop it from including that information in its data packets, its association/reassociation requests, and its probe requests/responses. A wireless network analyzer like Kismet or CommView for WiFi, can snatch an SSID out of the airwaves in no time.”

Download & Install Firmware Updates Only When Your Router Isn’t Working Properly

The truth is, you should always download these updates rather than relying on them as a fix. Router intrusions are a legitimate source of concern for those interested in security. These vulnerabilities are often the weakest point of entry for hackers, and as such, it’s important to close them down, when the fix becomes available.
Besides patching vulnerabilities, firmware updates also add features, or increase user-friendliness. It’s in your best interest to install them as they become available, and to stay on top of updates in the future.
Or better yet, install better firmware, such as: Tomato, OpenWRT or DD-WRT.

You Can Disable Wireless Security if You’re Using Windows Defender/A Firewall/Antivirus Software

It’s important to note that router security protects your home network in its entirety, not just your computer. A firewall that secures your computer doesn’t protect your network at all.
Computer-level protection revolves around protecting you from malware. Protecting your wireless network keeps thieves from intercepting data as it transmits between your device and the router.
Both forms of protection are necessary. On the router, you should always use WPA2-PSK (with AES encryption). On your computer, there are some super-solid options for malware protection.

5 GHz is Always a Better Option Than 2.4 GHz

This is an over-generalization of wireless technology. First, you’ll need to understand that wireless-N routers first offered the option of using either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency. If you have a wireless-N router, choosing the 5 GHz band isn’t ideal because it means isolating 2.4 GHz (older) devices – they simply won’t be able to connect to the router.
With wireless-AC routers come the option of enabling both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands simultaneously. Tri-band routers provide a single 2.4 GHz band in addition to two 5 GHz bands to further reduce network congestion. So which band should you use?
If you’re looking for better wireless penetration through solid walls to provide complete household coverage, then the 2.4 GHz band is the better choice.
If you’re hoping for better local transfer speeds, the 5 GHz band offers both reduced network congestion and faster throughput. This is useful for transferring files between networked devices, as well as local media streaming.
So the best option is a dual, or tri-band router. With an extra band – or two – you can switch seamlessly between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz depending on your need, and which one happens to offer up the best performance at that time.
So, if you want to speed up your current router, check this out instead.
Are there any networking myths you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments below. 
Image credit: Linux Password File by Christiaan Colen, Ethernet by Dave Crosby, Comcast by Mike Mozart, My WiFi Beacon SSID by Roman Soto, all via Flickr Source:

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