hi, as a sort of preacher, let me share my thoughts:
just share your connection with the world!
if you have important data to protect, just make sure your connections are safe (ssh/scp/sftp/ssl etc..) and your machines behind a firewall.
apart from that i see no reason for protecting your network.. unless ofcourse all of your 100 neighbours are using your bandwidth and leave nothing for you, except for the isp-bill for exceeding your data-limit..
i can't tell how often i have been greatfull to all those people and institutes all around the world that left their networks open.. especially while traveling it's just great to open your laptop and voila! connection!
good practice is to name the network after your adress or abbr. of that..
point is, if everyone would do that, it would bypass big commercial companies that provide payed wifi-, and very expensive UMTS networks.
free internet everywhere would be great, no?
I use WEP on my wireless network as well as a unique password for my modem/router and the firewall. Is there a protocol better than WEP that should be used? What other steps can be taken to protect ones wireless network?
There are really not many better choices. The funny thing is that I have opened mine up with no password now. It is so easy to break WEP and recover any key that it is not really of much value, but that is not really recognized legally. So if someone was to say send threatening messages to some head of state from your network do you think that they would believe that it was not you? In many ways using ineffective security is a greater risk than not using any at all.
P.S. You have got to get kinda close to my house to get a signal anyway so it really doesn't matter for me
Chances are the average wifi snooper isn't going to know how to break a WEP code, which is worth it in itself. And also, even though it can be done with relative ease by experienced persons, cracking a WEP password takes lots of time and patience, and even more so if the network doesn't receive constant wireless traffic. Yes, it can be done, but it's not worth most people's time to bother when they can leech off of people like lurk and arri =)
Also, I believe you would be held accountable by default in most countries for anything coming from your connection, regardless of who is responsible. It's your responsibility to see to it that the connection is used properly. Claiming ignorance isn't usually a good bet.
I haven't changed mine since I got my router in 2001, and I live in a very crowded area. Hell, I've had it so long that I've actually memorized the entire thing, and it's a 128 bit key! Haven't had any problems, although I do also use MAC (hardware id's... lol not macintosh) filtering for some added security. I think just turning WEP on makes you more protected than probably 80 percent of other networks, most of which are named "linksys".
I think turning on MAC filtering together with WEP is as secure as you're gonna get. The MAC filtering means that only specific network cards can access your network. While this can be spoofed, it's much much harder to do.
Most OS's support WEP and WPA. WEP is either 40-bit or 104-bit. The extra 24 bits that are advertised are just extra bits tacked on the end of the key. You can crack WEP using basic/semi-advanced brute force, basically guessing. WEP is a RC4 algorithm, a stream cipher. A stream cipher uses a key, then encrypts the data using XOR, exclusive OR. So all you have to do is to gather the data, then taking a thousand to million keys, and XOR to figure out the data. This can be done using your laptop/desktop and about an hour or two.
WPA is more advanced. It still uses RC4 cipher, uses TKIP, Temporal Key Integrity Protocol, which changes the key as the system uses it. It still isnt unbreakable, but it is better, since it is less known, and has built-in security measures.
A little googling, and some Wikipeding will answer any techinical questions.
When I setup wireless networks, I use MAC filtering, and WEP/WPA. Nothing is gaunteed to keep the bad guys out. FWIW, wired LANS can be tapped, just cut off the insulation on the wire, and attach clips, even fiber can be tapped. If somebody is willing enough, they will succeed.
Now, MAC filtering is not a sure thing either. Anyone who is useing a wireless interface can be seen, you just have to know how to look.