To Wire or Not to Wire — Which Is More Secure?

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Which is more secure: eavesdropping on a spoken conversation at the bar or trying to decipher some written note passed across the classroom? The answer is: neither; both types of messages are capable of being intercepted, but it takes different techniques in each case.

It’s a similar issue when you try to compare wired and wireless networks. Neither is 100-percent safe and impossible of being cracked by an experienced hacker, but there are different strategies for protecting either type. Is a wired network better than a wireless one, or vice versa? You’ll have to read this guide to find out for yourself.

Wired Networks

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Wired networks connect devices and the internet through ethernet cables. This technology predates Wi-Fi by decades; it comes from the time of Walkmans and VHS tapes — but unlike these technologies, wired networks are still very much in use. In fact, ethernet cables and wired connections have improved through the years, so those who choose to go the wired route can rest assured that they aren’t getting the same network speeds they had in the 1980s.

Most experts firmly believe that wired networks are safer than wireless networks. This is because passers-by have a more difficult time finding a wired network, let alone gaining access to it through their own devices. A hacker would need to bring an ethernet cord and physically connect to the modem or a wired device, and even then, that hacker would need to bypass any network security tools like passwords and administrator permissions. It’s an unlikely event, which is why wired security tends to be more secure.

Still, few hackers are wandering around with their laptops, looking for networks to hack into. Far more often, networks become compromised over the web, when a device user clicks the wrong link and accidentally compromises the network with malware. Thus, if you do set up a wired network, you can’t neglect critical endpoint security. Internet security tools, antivirus software and similar programs on all your connected devices will help users identify threats, keeping your wired network safe. You should also be certain that everyone in your household who uses your wired network should be well-trained with impeccable cyber-hygiene, so they know how to behave to avoid the attack.

Wireless Networks

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Wireless networks are built for convenience, which makes them more difficult to secure than wired networks. With any device, you can discover nearby Wi-Fi and potentially connect — and you might not know what other devices or users are also connected to those networks. That’s why there are so many warnings against using public Wi-Fi: Hackers often lurk on these connections, looking to launch man-in-the-middle attacks to steal your data.

Still, by equipping your home network with the right type of encryption and strong network names and passwords, you can avoid the bulk of wireless network attacks. Without a doubt, the wrong type of encryption is WEP; this only exists on the oldest routers, and it is terrible at protecting your network and your devices from attack. If your router only offers WEP encryption, it is time to upgrade to a new unit, ideally one with WPA2 encryption or above.

Then, it is imperative that you change your network password from the manufacturer’s default — which is easily found by hackers online — to code between 12 and 20 characters long with a random mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols. If you struggle to remember passwords, use a password manager to generate and remember this code for you.

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If you took steps to make your home smart, with a number of IoT devices that connect to your Wi-Fi, it’s a good idea to set up a second wireless network just for those devices. The IoT remains embarrassingly insecure, meaning hackers can easily access your home network through this tech, even if you set up your wireless encryption correctly. While you’re at it, you might create a separate guest network for visitors to your home, so no one but you and your family can access the network on which your devices live.

Unfortunately, the true answer is that wired networks are more secure than the wireless, but they simply aren’t very practical for home use in the Digital Age. Still, whichever network you choose to set up in your home, you will need to take additional steps to ensure that devices and data remain safe from prying eyes.