Secure Your Wireless Network in Five Steps
As home networking grows, so does wireless networking. The fact that you do not have to pay for the installation of Cat5 cabling makes wireless (802.11) the number one choice for people building a home computer network. Add to this ever increasing data speeds and it’s a wonder if anyone will shun this technology when building their home network.
But there is a downside. Much like a cordless phone, wireless networks broadcast a signal. Out of the box, this signal can be picked up by anyone in a certain range of the router/access point. I can always tell when a neighbor in close proximity has recently purchased a new wireless router because their network pops up on my list when I go to connect. When I bring this up with them, not one has ever known that this is possible. Most of the time, sheer panic spreads across their face when they learn how easy it is to access their home network. “Could you see what’s on my computer?” That is always the first question. The answer is simply yes. What happens is that the broadcasted signal from a wireless router can be picked up by any wireless adapter in range. There are even ways people can extend the range so that they can steal wireless signals. To protect yourself, and the information stored on your computer, there are a few steps you can take that will hide your wireless network from snooping neighbors, and protect you from more sophisticated attacks.
1. Change the administrator password on your router.
When you first plug in your router, the initial administrator password is usually admin, administrator, or left blank. For malicious hackers, this is common knowledge. Change this password immediately to a strong password (one that uses uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols).
2. Change the default SSID
SSID stands for Service Set Identifier. The SSID is the name of your wireless router. When first connected, the SSID is generally the same name as the manufacturer, i.e. Linksys or D-Link. Malicious hackers can find different security vulnerabilities for specific routers. Changing the SSID makes it harder for them to find them. When assigning a new SSID, make sure that you do not use personal information for the name.
3. Disable the SSID broadcast
Drive around town with a laptop or other 802.11 enabled device turned on, you will find multiple wireless networks this way that broadcast their SSID. Using a program such as net stumbler can give you a host of information about any network you find. By disabling the SSID broadcast, your network becomes less visible to people who drive around looking for wireless networks (a practice known as war driving).
4. Turn on encryption
Most wireless routers have at least WEP (wired equivalency privacy) encryption to help protect you. Encryption scrambles messages that go across your wireless network. Without the proper key, these messages are hard to read. Some devices come with stronger encryption. Find out what is the strongest your router has and make sure it is enabled.
5. Filter MAC addresses
Each piece of computer network hardware has a media access control address (MAC) that is unique to that piece of hardware. Your wireless router can be set so that only the MAC addresses you choose can connect to them.