So you have decided to install a wireless network in your home. When you open the box to set it up, you find that it’s surprisingly easy. You just follow a few steps, plug in some cables and it’s running in no time.

But wait. What’s that last sentence on the directions? Something about it being recommended to secure your connection? Well, surely the manufacturer would have included those steps if it were truly important. Think again. Securing a wireless network is more important than you might think, according to Patrick Brodeur, president of the euGenius Solutions computer service in Ankeny.

Brodeur meets a lot of people who think that the only implication of a non-secure wireless access point is that someone else in their neighborhood could get on the Internet using their connection. Actually, the person getting on your network could be a stranger parked somewhere on your street, or even someone several miles away using high-gain antennas to zero in on your connection. And he or she could be using your wireless access point to do illegal things, knowing that the activity will be traced back to your IP address. A little disturbing, isn’t it?

“A lot of people are ambivalent about wireless security, saying they don’t care if someone is on their network, because they don’t have anything important on their computer,” Brodeur said. “But the scariest thing is not what they’re taking from you, but the information they could be putting on your computer, such as stolen information or pornography.”

After attending a conference last year on network security, Brodeur drove through some neighborhoods in Ankeny to see how many wireless networks he could find. At that time, he found 22, only one of which was secure. Recently, he did the experiment again, and this time he found 88, only 22 of which had some security in place.

Brodeur recommends people follow a few steps to protect that their wireless access point from outside users. First, he suggests changing the service set identification name on the network – the name you give your wireless access point when you set it up – to something general, rather than using part of your first or last name. Next, turn off the service set identification name broadcast function so that your network isn’t displayed as an available network to people trying to log on to the Internet using a wireless connection. Finally, you need to enable encryption on the wireless access point.

Some people also choose to take security a step further with MAC (media access controller) filter authentication, Brodeur said. This involves programming your network card’s unique serial number into the wireless access point as the only authorized user.

If you have any doubts about how to secure the network, call an expert like Brodeur to assist. It could save you a lot of hassle later on.

“If your network is secure, chances are, the guys that are roaming around looking for free Internet access will bypass your network and drive down the block a little further and get on a non-secure one.”