Network Security: The First Line Of Defense
There's no such thing as guaranteed security for folks connected to the Internet. However, by adding additional layers of protection, it's possible to make a system increasingly difficult to compromise. Banks have multiple safeguards to prevent physical robberies, and well-built networks employ the same thinking to keep digital assets safe. You don't usually see the same thoroughness in home networks, though, because it costs a lot and requires a particular expertise in order to stay one step ahead of of the folks who'd like access to everything behind your firewall.
Instead of a tiered approach to security, most of us are only protected by our routers. That's what separates the local network from the Internet. It prevents strangers from using an IP address to access your system directly. And the router represents the first security layer in your network.
But it isn't just your first line of defense; it's also the most important. Why? Most people believe that you can enhance data security by installing a software firewall and a data encryption scheme like TruCrypt. However, most of us also make at least some of our data available to other users on our networks as a matter of convenience and easy accessibility. Perhaps we do this without even thinking that it could be seen by someone else. Regardless, when we do this, the integrity of our wireless network, protected by certain authentication technologies, is all that keeps our precious information safe from anyone in range and able to circumvent our safeguards. Adding additional security measures to keep Internet-based traffic out doesn't change that fact.
So, sure, streaming a high-def movie from your NAS to an HTPC in the living room might be easier as a result of wireless access. But anyone able to breach those invisible walls can do the same thing. And that doesn't even take into account the damage they can do on the Internet from an address that'd appear to be coming from your own little network.
In the early days of home networking, you could rely on the physicality of wired networking to restrict access. Now, with wireless technology, you have to worry about attacks coming from the Internet (hopefully being stymied by your firewall) and breaches closer to home that might allow an unsavory character right onto your network alongside other trusted devices. There is where stronger wireless security comes into play. That's the easiest way to protect your network from intrusion.
Now, we're assuming that most Tom's Hardware readers aren't setting up their access points and leaving them wide open to the pillaging of neighbors. You're using some sort of security protocol to at least discourage casual Web browsers looking to bum a ride on your bandwidth or amateur script kiddies testing their mettle.