Walt Mossberg

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Securing a Wireless Network

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions securing a wireless network, adapters that play the music stored on a PC through a stereo and voice-recognition software.


Last week you advised readers that, in order to stop people from piggybacking on a wireless network using a Linksys router, they should simply set up a password and keep it private. But don’t they need to enable an “encryption key?”

Yes. Most nontechnical folks would consider an encryption key as a kind of password, and that’s the word I used because I always try to write my columns in plain, conversational English. In this case, however, my use of the term may have caused confusion, because there are, in effect, two kinds of passwords on Linksys routers and most other brands of routers. One just prevents strangers from changing the router’s settings. The other — the one to which I was referring — is required to actually access the wireless network. That’s the one that’s technically called a “key.”

To enable the encryption key, use the router’s setup software to turn on security. On newer models, the strongest security system is called WPA, and on older models, it’s called WEP. Once it’s enabled, only people who know the key can get onto your network. There are further steps you can take, like hiding your network’s name (called an SSID) from others, or even restricting access to the network to specific computers with specific identification codes (called MAC addresses, a term that has nothing to do with Apple’s brand of computers.)

For more details, go to Linksys.com, select “Learning Center” at the top of the page, and click on “Network Security” from the menu that appears. And then click on the link called “How to Secure Your Network.”

Is there a stereo that I can buy that can wirelessly connect to my computer and play the same music I play with Apple’s iTunes on that computer?

Yes. If you literally mean a stereo, rather than an adapter for a stereo, the best I know of is called Sonos ZonePlayer 100. It involves a module you connect to your computer that links wirelessly to stereo units with built-in amps in remote rooms of your house. It has a beautiful remote control with a color screen and many other great features.

But it’s expensive — about $1,200 for the starter package, without speakers — and can’t play copy-protected music you buy from iTunes, only music you import from your CDs or other unprotected files. Information is at sonos.com. For much less money, you can also buy adapters that can play the music on a PC, or an iPod, through an existing stereo.

I have been keeping a journal or diary. It is hand written but I would like to make the journal more readable by others. Is there voice-recognition software that you would recommend, so I can dictate the entries?

It has been years since I reviewed voice-recognition software, but Dragon Naturally Speaking, a Windows program, works well. For more information, see nuance.com. And Microsoft’s new Vista operating system has a decent built-in voice recognition system. If you are using a Macintosh, one widely known speech-recognition program is called iListen, but I haven’t tested it. Information is at macspeech.com.

* * *

Because of the volume of e-mail I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by e-mail, or consult on individual problems or purchasing decisions. I read all questions I receive and select three each week to answer in the column.


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