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Securing your network in a growing wireless world

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A few weeks ago, I was having problems with my wireless printer at home. No matter how many times I rebooted my computer or checked the power supply on my printer or Internet router, nothing seemed to work. Then I noticed something.

When I ran my cursor over the little computer image in the lower right corner of my screen (the one that tells me that I am connected to my wireless home network), a pop-up window showed a different name than the one I gave to my network.

Investigating further, I discovered that this particular computer had connected to another wireless network run by one of my neighbors. In fact, there were five wireless networks, all unsecured, close enough to my house that my machine could detect them.

Basically, my wireless printer did not carry out the print command I had sent because it couldn't recognize my neighbor's network. My "to-do" list is still floating around somewhere in space, I guess.

Welcome to the increasingly cluttered wireless world of the Internet. Lots of people have wireless connections for their computers. And if US cities like Boston and Philadelphia have their way, everyone will have it, or at least access to it.

But after my computer "jumped networks" I was determined to learn more. So I called Tara Howard, an analyst with the Yankee Group, a Boston-based research firm that knows a lot about wireless networks. Ms. Howard says that what we're seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg. And down the road, newer wireless technology called Wi-Max will run faster, better, and cover more territory than the Wi-Fi signals we now use.

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