Networking is Connecting Computers Together
In simple terms, networking is connecting two or more computers together to share files, high-speed Internet access or resources like printers and scanners.
Easier to Install
Creating networks has become easier and less expensive. Most high-speed ISPs provide some sort of a router-modem combination these days.
Wired or Wireless?
Most current routers provide for two types of connection to the network:
- Wired (LANs) using Cat 5 (or faster Cat 6) Ethernet cables. Routers usually provide for up to four wired connections.
- Wireless (WLANs) using radio signals that carry the information between the various devices on the network. Wireless networks allow you to connect dozens of devices.
In addition to computers, tablets (iPads), network-capable "smart" phones, printers and other specially-designated devices are now capable of connecting with wireless technology. You can add this capability to some devices with third-party hardware.
Because you don't have to run wires, WLANs are easier to set up, but there may be limitations because of the walls or other interference between the router and certain areas in your home or office.
Other methods include connecting computers through the electrical wiring in the building using special network hardware designed for this purpose. These can provide a workable solution where you have difficulty running either network cabling or getting a reliable wireless signal.
Buying a Router
While the router supplied by your ISP might work well at home, if you're a business or are having difficulties with your network you can try these resources:
- Guide to buying a wireless router.
- Best WiFi routers for a large house or office.
- The 8 Best Wi-Fi Extenders.
The following sites have more information about planning and setting up a network:
- How home networking works on Howstuffworks.
- How to set up and optimize your wireless router from PCMag.
- 10 ways that you can boost your WiFi signal.
- The ultimate guide to home networking from PCWorld.
- Home Network on Wikipedia.
Setting Up Your Network
This is a very brief overview of the connection process. You will need to carefully follow the instructions that came with your router which may differ from this generic guide. Most routers come with setup instructions and a CD to help you.
Where I refer to your router this may be configured as a separate high-speed modem connected to an external router or as an all-in-one combined modem/router supplied by your ISP (most common). See Routers: Your Hardware Firewall for special instructions on securing your router.
Don't Use Wireless to Configure a Router
Never try to configure a router using a wireless connection.
You'll risk losing the signal when the router reboots during setup. Instead, connect to the router directly with an Ethernet cable until the setup and configuration is completed. Once complete, you can return to a wireless connection if you wish.
Configure Your Router
Follow these steps in order (unless directed differently by your router's installation guide) so that any problems can be rectified before you move on:
- Make sure the high-speed connection is working on the computer currently connected to the modem or router. This is an important step, since you don't want to complicate things by tackling the rest of the network before determining that your connection is active.
- Make a note of the items that your router installation guide suggests you record. You will need this later to configure the router.
If directed to install the software first, do that when instructed to do so.
- Remove the network cable from the back of the computer and plug it into the WAN port on the back of the router.
- Connect a network cable from one of the numbered ports to the back of the computer. (Do not use an “uplink” port.)
- Set your router up using the instructions provided by the manufacturer. This is where you will need the settings you recorded earlier. This sometimes requires rebooting the modem, router and computer.
- Check that your connection to the Internet is working on your computer. If you don't have a connection, you'll need to figure out where you went wrong before continuing.
Connections can differ with your ISP (usually Shaw or Telus):
Adding Other Computers
Once you are sure the main computer is working correctly, you can connect the other computers and devices to your network — one at time.
- Add the other computers that will be connected using a network cable into one of the remaining numbered plugs. Be sure to check their connectivity as you go. You may need to reboot each computer so that it sees the new network address or change the IP address.
- Add the wireless computers one at a time. You will need to configure each computer's wireless receiver according to the instructions you got with the unit.
- Add any other wireless devices like printers, scanners, smart phones, tablets, etc. one at a time. Use the instructions and/or software that came with these devices. Once connected most will prompt you to verify access by printing or scanning a test page. Do this on your primary computer first, then verify it elsewhere on the network.
More recent Windows versions make it easier to setup home and small business networks without a lot of technical knowledge by using technologies like HomeGroups. HomeGroups was initially included with Windows 10, but later removed. Details on how to network Windows 10 computers are in the Sharing Files section of my Windows 10 page.
Some of the information on these sites is quite dated, but still useful in learning the basics of networking:
- File sharing over a network in Windows 10 from Microsoft.
- Set up your home network, Windows 7 edition from PCWorld.
- Top 10 home WiFi network errors (and how to fix them) from PCWorld.
- 6 mistakes to avoid when setting up your small business wireless network from PCWorld.
- How to Set Up a Cross-Platform Network from PCWorld.
- The WiFi Alliance has lots of resources on wireless networking.
- Hardware Central has guides, reviews and hardware forums.
Renewing the IP Address
Rebooting your computer is not the only method for renewing the network address. You can use ipconfig at the command line following the instructions here:
- Click on Start then type cmd in the search box.
- Click on the cmd.exe that appears. When the command line window appears, click on it and a cursor will appear at the end of the last line.
- Type ipconfig /release to release the current IP address.
- Now type ipconfig /renew to renew the IP address. Not all devices may be active.
- Now, close the command line window and ensure that you can access the Internet and your network is available.
Windows Network & Internet Settings
Windows users can also open Windows Network & Internet Settings (Network and Sharing Center in Windows 7). Right-click your network connection icon (the display may change depending upon how the computer is connected to the network) then click Windows Network & Internet Settings or Network and Sharing Center.
This is where you can configure your network and determine the current status of your network connections.
Windows 7 displays a diagram of your network at the top:
Windows 10 displays a simplified diagram and is found in Settings:
There should be solid lines between your computer, the network and the Internet. If there isn't, click on Troubleshoot problems and follow the prompts.
More About IPCONFIG
The following resources can tell you more about the ipconfig command options:
Update Your WiFi Security
Just like other hardware and software, it is very important that you update your WiFi hardware and software when possible, replacing it when it is no longer secure.
KRACK WiFi Security Flaw
A new WiFi critical flaw in the WPA2 security standard, KRACK, affects virtually all devices but particularly Android and Linux operating systems. Windows and Apple devices are only partially affected and currently supported versions have been patched if you've installed the available updates.
Know that KRACK is mostly a local vulnerability -- attackers need to be within range of a wireless network. That doesn't mean your home network is totally impervious to an attack, but the odds of a widespread attack are low due to the way the attack works. You're more likely to run into this attack on a public network. — CNet.
You should therefore be sure to avoid public WiFi hotspots, such as those at airports as well as in public areas, cafés or hotels. Wired or mobile Internet connections are not affected by KRACK and are still considered secure. [C]lient devices connected to the WiFi are more vulnerable to the attack than access points or routers. — Ghostery.
While much is still up in the air, it is recommended that you use a wired network connection where possible and follow these guidelines for wireless connections:
- Continue to us WPA2 encryption for WiFi (it is better than the alternatives).
- Use cellular rather than WiFi on your mobile devices (turn the WiFi off).
- Always keep your devices up to date, upgrade your device where possible and cease using a device that is no longer supported by the manufacturer.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) service.
- Use HTTPS (an encrypted connection). Not all sites support this. The Cliqz browser supports this natively and the HTTPS Everywhere browser plugin allows you to add support to other browsers.
Patching is proceeding differently for each device.
- Various router manufacturers are updating but often the fix depends upon updates from the chip manufacturers that provided the router electronics.
- Bleeping Computer's list of firmware & driver updates for KRACK WPA2 vulnerability.
- US CERT have provided a list of vendors that may be affected by this vulnerability, and information about their latest updates.
Smartphones More Vulnerable
Smartphones are more vulnerable than computer systems but it depends upon the manufacturer as to how soon a patch may be available. Current Apple products have been patched, but Google Android products have not.
Your smartphone may be a different story. While iOS is fully secured, newer versions of Android are not yet. Since every smartphone manufacturer and wireless carrier uses a slightly different version of the Android OS, it's difficult to say when your device will be patched, if ever. — Tom's Guide.
Windows & Apple Patched
Microsoft and Apple have now patched their systems, but you're still better using wired network connections and turning off WiFi where possible until everything else is patched.
- Microsoft fixed the vulnerability with updates (XP and Vista were not patched).
- Apple released updates for all their core operating systems.
- Ubuntu and Mint, the most popular Linux version for home users, were patched.
- Other Linux systems are more vulnerable, particularly older versions. Recent releases are more likely to be patched.
IoT & “Smart” Homes Vulnerable
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been built to be inexpensive rather than ensuring they are secure. Security experts are warning that these devices are vulnerable and post-market security is not as easy to add.
Too many "Internet of Things" devices are made without security in mind. Their software is cobbled together from dozens of oft-used or even stolen parts, and many have hard-coded default usernames and passwords that are known to hackers. — Tom's Guide (screen 33).
“Smart” homes are dependent upon WiFi for their connections to the Internet. This environment includes fridges, remote control devices, baby monitors, thermostats and more. Imagine coming home to a frozen house because someone remotely turned off the heat.
There is a lot of information about KRACK. These should get you started:
- Time: Everything with WiFi has a newly discovered security flaw.
- How the Krack hack breaks WiFi security is a YouTube video that explains the issue simply with humour.
- Reuters: Researchers uncover flaw that makes WiFi vulnerable to hacks.
- How to protect your router from KRACK flaw.
Wired Network More Secure
Wired networks are more secure because they don't transmit information except to the connected devices via the network cables. However, the convenience of wireless makes it more practical for most home users. Be sure to secure your wireless network to protect from outside interference and unauthorized use.
Wireless Network Standards
You'll see a number designations for various wireless components.
These wireless standards all share the "802.11" part at the front, but the letter at the end is the most important, designating the standard. It is most common to just refer to the last letter when speaking about the devices. For example, 802.11g is usually called wireless G.
The most common wireless standards you'll encounter at home or in public access points are:
- 802.11b is an obsolete standard with a low throughput of 11 Mbps.
- 802.11g is more common, running with a throughput of 54 Mbps.
- 802.11n is the current standard with a throughput of 450 Mbps. It can penetrate areas in your home or office that previous versions couldn't.
- 802.11ac is the current standard with a throughput of 1300 Mbps on the 5GHz band (450 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band). It provides similar performance to wired connections.
All but the 802.11ac standards are slower than the 100Mbps throughput that wired Ethernet networks are capable of handling.
Mixing WiFi Standards
Many routers can only be configured with one standard at a time. Dual-band routers allow you to set two separate standards (e.g. G & N or A & C) on the same network, letting you provide for older devices. Sometimes a dual-band G/N or A/C router can provide more reliable service than an 802.11n single-band router.
More About WiFi Standards
- The WiFi Alliance has more information about these standards as well as a listing of certified devices and public hot spots worldwide.
- The Wikipedia IEEE 802.11 article includes information and history about the standards including some not in common use.
- 802.11 Standards Explained: 802.11ac, 802.11b/g/n, 802.11a.
- 802.11ac vs 802.11n WiFi: What's the difference?
- What is 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and how much faster than 802.11n is it?
Secure Your Wireless Network
It is very important that you secure your wireless network — you do not want your network or Internet service accessed by others. It is relatively easy using the tools provided by the manufacturers of wireless equipment.
Since no encryption is totally secure, use a wired network if you are concerned about confidential information. Be sure to disable the wireless capability on the router.
There are several protocols used to secure wireless networks. The most common are (in order of increasing security):
- WPA; and
WEP is an older encryption method that is not recommended. Some older devices such as laptops can only connect using WEP but you can upgrade it using an external USB device.
- WEP security uses only the digits 0–9 combined with letters A–F and sends a portion of the WEP security key each with each transmission so it is less secure than more recent encryption methods.
- The longer the key, the harder it is to break, and is therefore more secure. Use 128-bit encryption where possible and always mix letters and numbers in a random order.
WPA was designed to overcome all know security issues with WEP. WPA utilizes 128-bit encryption keys and dynamic session keys to ensure the wireless network's privacy and security. There are two general variations:
- WPA-Personal uses a pass-phrase or pre-shared key (sometimes referred to as personal mode) and is used for home and small office networks. This is sometimes referred to as WPA-PSK.
- WPA-Enterprise verifies network users through an authentication server and is used in large networks.
WPA2 uses an AES encryption algorithm for increased security. Most current routers support some form of WPA. WPA2-Personal and WPA2-Enterprise versions operate in the same manner as their WPA counterparts.
Check out these sites for more information about wireless security: