Q: I am getting Comcast broadband and would like to set up a desktop PC and a laptop using wireless in my home. I will be using Windows...

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Q: I am getting Comcast broadband and would like to set up a desktop PC and a laptop using wireless in my home. I will be using Windows XP SP2 firewall, ZoneAlarm and McAfee Virus Scan. I do not have national-security access codes on my computers, so I do not need extraordinary security. I just need the normal amount for a home user. Is there something more I can do to ensure that my neighbor or someone on the street cannot access my network?


— Renée Thorkelson



A: You’re right to be concerned. I did a wireless survey recently at my office in Pioneer Square and found more than a dozen wireless networks within range. What’s more, nearly half were totally unsecured.


And having outsiders accessing your data via your wireless connection is only one of the things you need to worry about. For one thing, hackers can gain access to the Internet through your wireless connection and the nasty things they do might be tracked back to you.


Even if you don’t attract the attention of the authorities or get placed on an Internet service provider’s blacklist, the last thing you want to do is to facilitate spammers and other evildoers. Also, any traffic crossing your wireless network, including passwords used to access, say, online banking, might be snagged by someone tapping into your wireless network.


The bad news is that wireless networks are inherently less secure than wired networks, and even if you take all the reasonable steps to secure your system, a determined and knowledgeable hacker can gain access. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take those reasonable steps.


The first step in setting up your wireless network is to turn off broadcasting of your station identifier. Most wireless access points come configured to broadcast their names. That means anyone within range sees the access point. If you turn off the station ID broadcast, the user will have to enter the name before he or she can “see” the access point.


Second, you should use the encryption option in your wireless access point. WEP (wired equivalent privacy) can be used to encrypt your wireless traffic and to authenticate users, and you should use it for both. WEP involves an exchange of codes between the client and the access point. Be aware that someone monitoring your wireless traffic can crack the code in relatively short order, so to be effective you’d need to change the codes frequently.


Finally, you should make sure to change the user name and password for accessing the access point. The default names and passwords are well-known to hackers.


There are a number of other steps you want to take if you are especially security conscious and have the technical know-how, including only allowing connections from clients with specified MAC addresses and implementing virtual private networks for all wireless traffic. But the steps listed above should deter all “casual” hackers.


If you want to see a more detailed explanation of your security options, along with illustrations of how to implement some of them, try this Web page: arstechnica.com/guides/tweaks/home-802.11b.ars.


Q: I’m running Windows XP Professional. When I right-click on the Recycle Bin and select Properties, a window appears with a “Display delete confirmation dialog” check box. I leave it unchecked. Nevertheless, every time I try to empty the Recycle Bin, a window pops up and asks me if I’m sure I want to. How can I set Windows so that it won’t ask me if I’m sure? And why does Microsoft provide a “Display delete confirmation dialog” check box if Windows is going to ignore my preference anyway? By the way, I know how to set it so that files just get deleted when you delete them, instead of getting put in the Recycle Bin. I prefer to put them in the Recycle Bin and empty it later.


— Larry Miller, Eugene



A: That “Display delete confirmation dialog” check box is intended to allow you to receive or not to receive a confirmation dialog when you are deleting a file from a regular directory, not from the Recycle Bin. If the Recycle Bin is active and you try to delete a file from it, you will receive a confirmation dialog.


Microsoft apparently didn’t consider that users who would want the security of having a Recycle Bin wouldn’t want the security of a confirmation dialog.


Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.