Wireless Computing

Wireless Computing

You have a laptop, netbook, or possibly a desktop computer with wireless capability.  What are the key points you should know about this technology?

Some major issues are:

  • Connection Types
  • Methods of connecting
  • Security

 Connection Types

The two most common means of wireless computing are the wireless router at home or the office and the hot spot located at cafes, hotels, coffee shops, etc.  Your mobile computer already is capable of connecting in these instances.

Another common method is using a wireless adapter supplied by your cell phone provider.  This allows you to connect wherever cell phone coverage is available.  You may have purchased a computer with this capability already built in.

Methods of Connecting

There are three methods of wireless connection:

  • Ad Hoc
  • Infrastructure (Access Point)
  • Any Available Network

The Ad Hoc method allows two or more devices to communicate directly with one another without involving an access point or wireless router.  You can connect directly to a wireless printer this way.  Leaving your computer in this mode can be dangerous in public places such as cafes and coffee shops because a hacker can easily gain access to your computer system.

The infrastructure method will connect to an Access Point or Wireless router and can provide connection to a wired network and/or the Internet.  This method allows features that enhance the security of your computer while connected.  As the procedures to actually connect to a wireless network vary widely depending on your software, consult the owner’s manual for your computer for specific instructions.

The third method allows connection to either of the first two with an Access Point being preferred.

To change this setting:

  • Click on the Start Button
  • Click on “Connect To”
  • Right-click on your wireless connection.

You will see a window like the following:

Click on the Wireless Networks tab to view the window below:

Click on the Advanced button.  The picture below shows where you select a method in Windows XP:

Make the appropriate selection and click the Close button.


The first thing to know is that wireless networks are not entirely secure.  However, there are several principles you can follow to improve the security of your network.  To implement these suggestions, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to configure your wireless router.

Administrator Password

You should change the password for the administrator account for your router.  The default passwords are well known and can leave the system highly vulnerable to attack.


The router will broadcast a user-definable network name. The default is usually the name of the manufacturer such as Linksys or Netgear.  You should give this a name of your own but don’t use something like your first or last name or address that would further identify your network. This name is case sensitive.  I recommend also turning off broadcasting on the router. That way an intended user must already know the name.  Unfortunately, there are ways for an intruder to discover the name so this isn’t foolproof.


The lowest level of encryption is WEP (Wireless Equivalency Privacy).  More secure are WPA and WPA2 (WiFi Protected Access). You should use the highest method that your client PCs and devices support.  For WPA try to use a phrase that is at least 16 characters long. Mix in upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.  The phrase will be easy for you to remember but hard for an intruder to crack.

MAC Address Filtering

Every network adapter has a unique 12-character identifier called a MAC Address.  You can instruct the router to only accept clients with a known MAC address.  Unfortunately, a determined intruder can spoof this address so this only adds another hurdle in the way.

Remote Administration

Routers can permit someone on the Internet to exercise control over the network.  The best practice is to turn this feature off to close off that potential entry point.

Firewall on the PC

Since mobile computers are out in the world, they are much more vulnerable than a desktop PC connected in a wired network environment.  At a minimum, make certain that your Windows Firewall is turned on.  For added security you might consider using a third party Internet Security package from a major vendor such as AVG, McAfee, or Norton.  These packages tend to bog down the machine somewhat and can provide a seemingly endless stream of confirmation questions but are well worth considering.


Unfortunately, everything comes with a price. As wonderful as wireless networking is, security concerns must be weighed and dealt with.  If you follow the suggestions in this article and use some common sense, you can enjoy the freedom of wireless computing.

About Dick Buchanan

I started working with computers some 25 years ago when my wife, Carol, and I purchased our first PC which was a Kaypro IV CP/M machine. This lead to studying computer science at Seattle Pacific University and becoming a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). During this time I have worked for The Boeing Company, IBM Global Services, and Microsoft. I currently own and operate a local computing services company called Byte Savvy located in Kalispell, MT
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