Keeping Your Wireless Network Safe

WIFI-TrespassingSearch for available wireless networks pretty much anywhere, and the number your device finds can be quite surprising. (And they’re just the ones broadcasting their SSID – Service Set Identifier. The funniest two I’ve yet come across were ‘Get Your Own Network’ and ‘ASIO Mobile Unit 4’ !)  So how do you ensure than some passing opportunist doesn’t hack into your wireless network?

Essentially there’s two things you can do to minimize risk from unauthorized access; encrypt the data sent and restrict the devices that can connect. I’m going to assume you have your modem/router manual handy or at less know how to get into it’s operating system. You’ll need that knowledge to make the necessary changes I’m suggesting.

Encryption

I know it’s a scary word for some, but encryption technology comes bundled with all wireless routers and you only need to set it up once with the router and each device connected. To understand encryption; think of a jig-saw puzzle. The puzzle pieces are your data, the picture on the box is the key to assembling the puzzle. Encryption technology uses keys which are transmitted to another device; like you’d hand a box containing the puzzle pieces (data) and a picture on the box (the key) to your friend to assemble. (yeah I know it’s an incredibly simplified illustration but it gets the point across)

Almost all modern routers let you choose from an encryption list you want, many now feature a button (physically or in software) that enables WPS (Wifi Protected Mode). This is by far the easiest and quickest way to set up encryption, but not the most secure. WPS has a design flaw which can leave a network venerable. Similarly the WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol) should be avoided as it’s easily cracked, (or broken into). WPA2 (Wifi Protected Access 2) is the preferred way to go, enabling you to choose an encryption key up to 64 character long! Still with me? It sounds complicated but by following the instructions on your router you should quite easily be able to access the internal ‘brain’ of it and find the above encryption protocol to select. (Suggest you be physically attached to your modem at this stage, i.e. your computer via a LAN cable. As once you lock down the thing, you will be locked out until you configure your PC). As I mentioned you can have a long encryption key, so use it as it makes things that much more secure. Don’t forget to write down or memorize your encryption key because without entering it on a device you want to connect; you’re up the creek without a paddle.

MAC Filtering

This has nothing to do with filtering an Apple computer. All wireless receivers used in computers have a unique MAC (Machine Access Code) as do LAN connectors. You can find yours by using the command prompt again as we did in upgrading the scooter – part 1  some weeks back. For your convenience type Win +R, hit Enter and type cmd and hit Enter. In the command prompt window type the following: ipconfig /all and hit Enter. Scroll through the gobble-gook to find the heading ‘Wireless Adapter…’ and look for the entry ‘Physical Address’. It will be a hexadecimal (first 6 alphabetical letters and decimals 0-9) code 12 characters long divided into pairs; this is your unique MAC address. (You’ll likely see more than one – for example a LAN connection will have one, but that’s not important as we’re securing the WIFI here and MAC filtering in this context restricts WIFI access.)

ipconf2

Screenshot of the Command Prompt window (partly shown only)

Armed with your MAC address, access the modem’s innards again and find the place where you can enable MAC filtering. Enter your MAC address here and save. Now only a device matching that MAC address can access your wireless network. (LAN connections aren’t affected.) MAC filtering isn’t hacker proof but should be seen and another line of defense.

Should I Hide My SSID?

Most modems allow you the option to hide the SSID from being broadcast. Is this useful too? Actually it’s kind of a waste of time, so lets just ignore that. If you want to go hide your network (from everyone except hackers), whatever blows your hair back, just don’t think it’s any real security help. Any hacker worth his salt has access to snooping tools that’ll find a ‘hidden’ wireless network in seconds.

What else can I do to secure my network

Wifi-securityWell the obvious is not to publish your WPA2 key verbally or otherwise. Turn your modem off when you’re not going to using it. (If anyone is trying to access your network it messes with their head).  Finally, don’t be a target that hackers are interested in. (.e. if you’re a bank, fortune 500 company or the government.) If your network is secure as you can make it then you’re probably as safe as you’re going to be.

 

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