Why Secure your Wireless Network?
There are several reasons why you would want to secure your wireless network. An unsecure network gives prying persons the opportunity to see what websites you are navigating to and what information you are transmitting – essentially, none of your information is private unless it is secured. That means all the email you send or online banking that you do could be visible to prying eyes – unless you secure your wireless network. Also, an unsecure network allows neighbors and computer users nearby to log on to your internet connection and “steal” your bandwidth as they connect to the internet while you pay for it. Lastly, hackers and persons desiring to inflict harm to computers will usually take the path of least resistance – having a secure connection may prevent any scrutiny from would-be cyber-terrorists; they are looking for an easy way in.
Step 1 – Secure your Router
More than likely, when you purchased your wireless router, you simply plugged it in and followed the quick setup instructions. You probably did not change the router password — most routers come from the factory with the same pre-installed password. Make sure you change this to something only you will know so that it cannot be tampered with (maliciously or by accident). To do this, log on to your router and find the appropriate option that allows you to change the password. If you do not change your router’s password, even if you secure your data with encryption (Step #2 below), a determined individual can still access your router and possibly take control over it.
Step 2 – Secure your Data with Encryption
Depending on the age and price of your wireless router, you will have different options available to secure your data. Data is secured by encryption, where all of the information packets are encrypted, and no one can connect to your internet connection without possessing the proper pass key (that you generate). Two popular forms of encryption are WEP and WPA. WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) is an older standard supported by more dated routers. WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2 are the newer and more secure standard. After you generate your pass key (e.g. Jone$p@ssword), don’t forget to write it down so that you can pass it to the rest of the computers in your home. After creating the key and selecting the encryption type, you are all done! Now, strangers and neighbors cannot access your internet connection (because they don’t know your pass key) and snoopers cannot see what information you are transmitting wirelessly because it is encrypted. All of the information you are sending to and from the internet is encrypted and not visible to anyone else (even those snooping or trying to invade your privacy). For more in-depth details, check your router’s manual or simply log on to your router.
Step 3 – Setup a MAC Address Access List
An additional (optional) step that you can do is to set up a MAC Address Access List. Every computer has a separate and unique MAC Address – it is a string of numbers and letters similar to an IP address, but stays static and belongs to the individual device — it is the digital identity of each computer. Routers allow you the option of creating a list of MAC Addresses (devices) that can connect to your router – think of it as a “friends list” – only these devices will be allowed to connect to your network. Basically, you can enter the MAC Addresses of all of your computers into this list and no other computes (e.g. your neighbors, strangers, etc.) can connect to your wireless internet. Some people use this as their lone security option (instead of encryption). Keep in mind if this is the only security precaution you employ, your data is still visible to prying eyes.
For more information, check out our article on How to Protect your Privacy .
Take caution – learn more about How to Prevent Phishing Attacks on your PC.