Computer network

A computer network is a group of computers that use a set of common communication protocols over digital interconnections for the purpose of sharing resources located on or provided by the network nodes.

A network consists of two or more computers that are linked in order to share resources (such as printers and CDs), exchange files, or allow electronic communications. The computers on a network may be linked through cables, telephone lines, radio waves, satellites, or infrared light beams.

Two very common types of networks include:

  • Local area network
  • Wide area network

You may also see references to a Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN), a Wireless LAN (WLAN), or a Wireless WAN (WWAN).

Local Area Network

A Local Area Network (LAN) is a network that is confined to a relatively small area. It is generally limited to a geographic area such as a writing lab, school, or building.

Computers connected to a network are broadly categorized as servers or workstations. Servers are generally not used by humans directly, but rather run continuously to provide “services” to the other computers (and their human users) on the network. Services provided can include printing and faxing, software hosting, file storage and sharing, messaging, data storage and retrieval, complete access control (security) for the network’s resources, and many others.

Workstations are called such because they typically do have a human user which interacts with the network through them. Workstations were traditionally considered a desktop, consisting of a computer, keyboard, display, and mouse, or a laptop, with with integrated keyboard, display, and touchpad. With the advent of the tablet computer, and the touch screen devices such as iPad and iPhone, our definition of workstation is quickly evolving to include those devices, because of their ability to interact with the network and utilize network services.

Servers tend to be more powerful than workstations, although configurations are guided by needs. For example, a group of servers might be located in a secure area, away from humans, and only accessed through the network. In such cases, it would be common for the servers to operate without a dedicated display or keyboard. However, the size and speed of the server’s processor(s), hard drive, and main memory might add dramatically to the cost of the system. On the other hand, a workstation might not need as much storage or working memory, but might require an expensive display to accommodate the needs of its user. Every computer on a network should be appropriately configured for its use.

On a single LAN, computers and servers may be connected by cables or wirelessly. Wireless access to a wired network is made possible by wireless access points (WAPs). These WAP devices provide a bridge between computers and networks. A typical WAP might have the theoretical capacity to connect hundreds or even thousands of wireless users to a network, although practical capacity might be far less.

Nearly all servers will be connected by cables to the network, because the cable connections remain the fastest. Workstations which are stationary (desktops) are also usually connected by a cable to the network, although the cost of wireless adapters has dropped to the point that, when installing workstations in an existing facility with inadequate wiring, it can be easier and less expensive to use wireless for a desktop.

Wide Area Network

Wide Area Networks (WANs) connect networks in larger geographic areas, such as Florida, the United States, or the world. Dedicated transoceanic cabling or satellite uplinks may be used to connect this type of global network.

Using a WAN, schools in Florida can communicate with places like Tokyo in a matter of seconds, without paying enormous phone bills. Two users a half-world apart with workstations equipped with microphones and a webcams might teleconference in real time. A WAN is complicated. It uses multiplexers, bridges, and routers to connect local and metropolitan networks to global communications networks like the Internet. To users, however, a WAN will not appear to be much different than a LAN.

Wireless network

A wireless network is a computer network that uses wireless data connections between network nodes. Wireless networking is a method by which homes, telecommunications networks and business installations

TYPES OF WIRELESS NETWORK

There are basically three different types of wireless networks – WAN, LAN and PAN:

Wireless Wide Area Networks (WWAN): WWANs are created through the use of mobile phone signals typically provided and maintained by specific mobile phone (cellular) service providers. WWANs can provide a way to stay connected even when away from other forms of network access.

Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN): WLAN are wireless networks that use radio waves. The backbone network usually uses cables, with one or more wireless access points connecting the wireless users to the wired network. The range of a WLAN can be anywhere from a single room to an entire campus.

Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN): WPANs are short-range networks that use Bluetooth technology. They are commonly used to interconnect compatible devices near a central location, such as a desk. A WPAN has a typical range of about 30 feet.

How To Protect Wireless Network From Unauthorized Access.

Securing Wireless Networks

What can you do to minimize the risks to your wireless network?

  • Change default passwords. Most network devices, including wireless access points, are pre-configured with default administrator passwords to simplify setup. These default passwords are easily available to obtain online, and so provide only marginal protection. Changing default passwords makes it harder for attackers to access a device. Use and periodic changing of complex passwords is your first line of defense in protecting your device.
  • Restrict access. Only allow authorized users to access your network. Each piece of hardware connected to a network has a media access control (MAC) address. You can restrict access to your network by filtering these MAC addresses. Consult your user documentation for specific information about enabling these features. You can also utilize the “guest” account, which is a widely used feature on many wireless routers. This feature allows you to grant wireless access to guests on a separate wireless channel with a separate password, while maintaining the privacy of your primary credentials.
  • Encrypt the data on your network. Encrypting your wireless data prevents anyone who might be able to access your network from viewing it. There are several encryption protocols available to provide this protection. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), WPA2, and WPA3 encrypt information being transmitted between wireless routers and wireless devices. WPA3 is currently the strongest encryption. WPA and WPA2 are still available; however, it is advisable to use equipment that specifically supports WPA3, as using the other protocols could leave your network open to exploitation.  
  • Protect your Service Set Identifier (SSID). To prevent outsiders from easily accessing your network, avoid publicizing your SSID. All Wi-Fi routers allow users to protect their device’s SSID, which makes it more difficult for attackers to find a network. At the very least, change your SSID to something unique. Leaving it as the manufacturer’s default could allow a potential attacker to identify the type of router and possibly exploit any known vulnerabilities.
  • Install a firewall. Consider installing a firewall directly on your wireless devices (a host-based firewall), as well as on your home network (a router- or modem-based firewall). Attackers who can directly tap into your wireless network may be able to circumvent your network firewall—a host-based firewall will add a layer of protection to the data on your computer .
  • Maintain antivirus software. Install antivirus software and keep your virus definitions up to date. Many antivirus programs also have additional features that detect or protect against spyware and adware
  • Use file sharing with caution. File sharing between devices should be disabled when not needed. You should always choose to only allow file sharing over home or work networks, never on public networks. You may want to consider creating a dedicated directory for file sharing and restrict access to all other directories. In addition, you should password protect anything you share. Never open an entire hard drive for file sharing
  • Keep your access point software patched and up to date. The manufacturer of your wireless access point will periodically release updates to and patches for a device’s software and firmware. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s website regularly for any updates or patches for your device.
  • Check your internet provider’s or router manufacturer’s wireless security options. Your internet service provider and router manufacturer may provide information or resources to assist in securing your wireless network. Check the customer support area of their websites for specific suggestions or instructions.
  • Connect using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Many companies and organizations have a VPN. VPNs allow employees to connect securely to their network when away from the office. VPNs encrypt connections at the sending and receiving ends and keep out traffic that is not properly encrypted. If a VPN is available to you, make sure you log onto it any time you need to use a public wireless access point.

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