Securing your wireless network
Congratulations! You’ve taken the big step and installed a wireless network in your home. No doubt you know by now that the great thing about wireless networks is that your computer can connect to the Internet from your office, the basement, even from your deck.
The only problem is, the radio signals that enable your computer to connect to the network from the basement also may travel to your neighbors’ living room. Or, a hacker searching for insecure wireless connections can get into your systems from a car parked on the street. For this reason, you need to be a little careful about securing your network from unwanted intruders.
To keep your wireless network safe, we recommend six steps:
1. Change the system ID: Wireless routers and access points come with a default system ID. It is easy for a hacker to find out what the default identifier is for each manufacturer of wireless equipment. We recommend you change the ID to something else (and don’t use your name or anything else easily guessed).
2. Change the default administrator password: This step is recommended for ALL hardware and software. The default passwords are easily obtained, and because so many people don’t bother to take the simple step of changing them, they are easy prey for hackers. Make sure you change the default password to something that is not easily guessed, like your last name.
3. Disable identifier broadcasting: You already know you have a wireless connection, you don’t need to broadcast this fact to everyone else. Doing so is an invitation for hackers. Check the manual for your hardware and figure out how to disable broadcasting.
4. Enable encryption: WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encrypt your data so that only the intended recipient is supposed to be able to read it. As with all security measures, there are ways around these, but by using encryption you will keep the casual hackers out of your systems. If possible, you should use WPA encryption (most older equipment can be upgraded to be WPA compatible) which addresses many of the security flaws in WEP.
5. Restrict unnecessary traffic: Many wired and wireless routers have built-in firewalls. They are not the most technically advanced firewalls, but they help create an additional line of defense. Read the manual for your hardware and learn how to configure your router to only allow incoming or outgoing traffic that you have approved.
6. Patch and protect your PCs: As a last line of defense, you might consider installing personal firewall software such as Zone Alarm Pro and anti-virus software. Be sure to keep the anti-virus software updated. You should also remain current with patches for known security vulnerabilities. For Microsoft operating systems, you can use Windows Update to help you do so.
While you may not consider your communications “top secret,” you probably do not want strangers reading your e-mail, using your computer to attack other systems, sending forged e-mail from your computer or examining personal information stored on your computer. Take steps to protect your network!
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