A wireless network key is a security feature that prevents unauthorized users from accessing a wireless network. It can be a simple password or a self-generated combination of digits and letters. A good number of wireless networks are still left unprotected, leaving them vulnerable to hackers and data thieves. Most home and SOHO routers allow users to configure a high degree of wireless security easily.

1. Significance:
Wireless networks are now ubiquitous, and a large number of homes incorporate a wireless network into their infrastructure. Because an unprotected network is an unlocked virtual door, anybody within range can piggyback on the network undetected. Their activity can span from the benign (using it for Web surfing and email) to virtual mischief (downloading large, files which is often copyrighted material, to avoid a bottleneck on their own connection) to downright criminal activity (accessing personal data on your computers, stealing passwords and financial information).

2. Types:
There are many types of wireless security scenarios to consider when configuring a wireless network. The most common types for home and office use are WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access). Each of these types has multiple options and different bits (which heighten security of the wireless network). There is also an entire spectrum of more complex, enterprise-wide wireless security standards, but most of these are well beyond the scope of the average computer user.

3. Features:
The wireless router (or access point) is where the security of the wireless network is configured. Here, the administrator sets the security parameters, including user access, firewall configurations and access limits. Then the key is entered in to each computer that accesses the wireless network. For a more secure network, the network key should be entered into the user’s computer by the administrator, and not given to the end user.

4. Warning:
A lost or forgotten wireless network key can be a problem, particularly on a network with many users and many wireless access points and repeaters. Resetting a single router in a home or small office situation is a slightly annoying, yet simple enough process, but when you’re dealing with more than four or five end users, this can become a time consuming issue. A good network administrator should have the router’s configuration backed up, and ready to transfer to a new router in the event of a lost password or router hardware failure.

5. Expert Insight:
The most secure type of wireless network key is one that consists of randomly generated letters and numbers. However, because of the nature of this type of network key, it’s hard for users to remember it. A screen shot of the router’s configuration page can be a handy tool, but leaving it in an easy-to-find place on your computer work area will compromise your network’s security, as a thief or unauthorized user would be able to access the network with this information.

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