Wired vs. wireless - security vs. speed

Wired vs. wireless - security vs. speed

Summary: Once again, this opinionated jackass dives in head first, looking at the next generation of networking and whether wireless technology will ever overtake Ethernet.


Last night, myself and my friend Dan were sat in the pub, discussing many-a-topic from skinny-jean wearing teenagers to networking. You can probably guess what got me more interested. Through the drunkenness and arguing, we came to a sound conclusion that wired connectivity won't be overtaken any time soon by wireless technology.

My job here is to write about the next generation of students, the next generation technology and how the two work together. I just went next door to ask my friends, ordinary and average students, what an Ethernet cable was and they had no idea. I went on Facebook and picked four random students - three women and one man - and the results didn't shock me.

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I don't blame them, because we're so used to having a convenient way of accessing a network, or what most people call "the Internet".

Because these things are often just there, we take them for granted. We sit in our lecture theatres, Starbucks or pubs, connect to the wireless and get access to the web. Sure, it's convenient, but I would much rather find a mega-long Ethernet cable and use that instead. Do we substitute convenience for security? Do we prefer a clutter free desktop to high network speeds?

Wireless connectivity is convenient; there's no doubt about it. It's made my life and many students' lives easier by being able to work anywhere. With wireless capabilities being ported to mobile devices and phones, it's made things cheaper and more economical for student budgets.

The security issues though, are something we cannot avoid. Wireless, through its technological nature, can be intercepted quite easily. Unlike an Ethernet cable, you can't just attach a device half way down the line and pick up everything that's being transmitted. With wireless, you can actually see the data being sent and received, in real time monitoring. It only takes one look on the "Wifi security" category on the Zero Day blog to see how vulnerable wireless technology is.

Something I've discovered living in a house, on a street surrounded by students and wireless access points, it genuinely worries me how susceptible we all are to electronic attack. All it would take is someone sitting outside the houses in a car, set up with a wireless enabled laptop, and it could take them less than 5 minutes to crack into a wireless access point.


So let's face it. Wireless isn't secure, whereas a wired solution is. Why do you think enterprise networks such as universities are predominantly wired? Sure, there are wireless hotspots dotted around, depending on the type of network, but these will be secured to high heaven and will need a username and password to log on; WPA2 Enterprise is probably the most secure wireless type you'll get, but it's expensive and difficult to set up.

Ethernet on the other hand, is as far as I can recall, and as much as I've researched, is the most secure. It's an old technology, but the reason it's still used today is because it works so well. You can't intercept the data, you have extremely fast speeds and it's cheap to run, install and maintain.

The speeds - oh God the speeds. With an Ethernet cable, you may well have to wrap the remaining length around your ankle, but at least you're almost guaranteed a stable and reasonably fast connection. Because my house is made up of part brick, part stone, part cardboard and occasionally bits of wood, the wireless signal around here is appalling. In the first week of moving in, the only place in my house that I could get a decent wireless connection was lying on my back with my legs perched against the corner kitchen surface, with my laptop resting precariously on my belly.

I've thrown together this little table, just to try and rationalise these ideas into one, tight-knit bit.


After much consideration over this, I obviously see the upsides to wireless - allowing mobility, flexibility and convenience of working anywhere, but the downsides just don't even it out. I don't particularly want to sit in a public place, check my bank balance and have someone over the other side of the room saving and analysing every bit of network traffic I send and receive.

Although it'll be a tad impractical to have an Ethernet cable trailing along the floor, with people tripping over and spilling coffee on old people, at least I'd feel more secure in what I do. I don't even feel 100% secure in my own house, knowing there are people next door who could be easily cracking open my network and essentially watching everything that I do.

Ethernet will live on for a long time yet. Wireless may well be simple enough for many, but it just causes too many damn problems. With a cable, you plug it in at both ends and it just works without any screwing around. I just wish I had a cable long enough to snake around the house so I can sit in the garden on those (rare) sunny days.

Am I alone on this one? Please, feel free to let me know, and happy Thanksgiving to my majority audience.

Topics: Hardware, Networking, Security, Wi-Fi

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  • But Zack...

    [i]...the only place in my house that I could get a decent wireless connection was lying on my back with my legs perched against the corner kitchen surface, with my laptop resting precariously on my belly.[/i]

    ...isn't that the position you always assume when you're surfing internet porn, regardless of whehter your connection is wired or not?
    • RE: MGP2

      I don't need porn. I have a partner which, as many who read this don't seem to know, is much better than porn. It's like interactive TV except you have to put effort in yourself.
  • People's internet use

    You're right, but how much security issues come down to people's inability to use proper browsing practices? If you're in a Starbucks doing your on-line banking, you're an idiot, plain and simple.

    At home, I see it both ways. A properly secured wireless network is helpful, assuming the following:

    disabling the SSID broadcast
    restrict access based on MAC address
    use WPA2 only

    I plan on running Cat6 cable all through my house, but it's not practical yet.
    • The first is bad, the second useless and the third is good

      Hiding the SSID is a particularly bad idea: it even damages your security. And MAC address filtering is simply useless (though not harmful).

      WPA2 is good, though, even if it's only Personal and not Enterprise. Choose "AES only" as encryption, not "TKIP + AES" (the second method is still backwards compatible with the insecure TKIP).

      Here's the full story:
    • Disabling the SSID is BAD...

      All it does is open your network up to MORE security threats (IE>Rogue access points). Besides you are only turning off i believe 1 of 5 methods of broadcasting it anyway - leave it on, use WPA2 (in AES-CCMP mode only), use a PSK that is at LEAST 20 alphanumeric characters, change it ever 60-90 days (for the uber paranoid) and you will be fine. Enabling MAC filtering is OK - if you want the administrative nightmare - but be advised that your MAC address is always sent in the clear, never encrypted.
  • I take your point

    about most things in your story. But, how does the fact
    some people don't know what an ethernet cable is, mean
    they don't use one?
    A Grain of Salt
    • It doesn't

      All it means is that they don't know what the cable is called.

      A better question would be "if you didn't have wireless internet how else would you get internet access." Responses? "Uh you hook up this cable this?" "Plug in your phone cord?" "Call Dell?" etc.

      People don't know how their computer works they just know that sometimes it does.
  • Another advantage of Wireless...

    ...is it provides revenue for entrepernerial Comp Sci students. When I was at Uni in Newcastle (I graduated last summer) I lived in a flat for two years. I used to walk up & down the street going to lectures, pub, etc with my PDA turned on picking up wireless signals. I'd get home look at all the signals and find the unsecured / weak security ones & drop a flyer into the offending letterbox offereing to secure their wireless for a small fee. It only ended up being small amounts of beer money but I got to know my neighbours & a little extra case never hurts!

    I think thats a definate plus over ethernet!
  • Wireless is ok for home internet.

    But there's nothing like a dropped connection at work to garbage a database.

    Wireless doesn't even approach wired at any level.
    • Not yet

      Wireless isn't as good as wired is, just yet.... I am expecting that in 10 years or less, we will see Wireless that actually ECLIPSES wired in ease of use, ability to be used anywhere, etc.

      Really.... my parents have a trailer. We are able to get a signal anywhere in our home (on our new computers, my old one SUCKS ASS at getting a signal because of, of all things, the slow processor in it), it is VERY safe (I've enabled TKIP+AES WPA2 in our router and stopped broadcasting the SSID, so no one even KNOWS we have a wireless router unless they have been in our home or seen it through my father's window that is almost always closed), and I change the wireless keys every 60 days since having a computer show up about 2 years ago that I KNEW wasn't one of ours.
  • Wired vs wireless

    Thanks for the info. I had been toying with the idea of going wireless, but based on the security issues, think I'll stick with wired!