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Securing Wireless Networks
The invention of the modern day wireless network, has lead to an enormous increase in home and small business networks.
Before wireless networking, if someone needed a network, they would have to wire there home or office, this was the only way to connect one computer to another.
While this may not have posed much of an issue for a small office, it was rarely conducive or practical for homes.
Wireless Networks are Great But Carry Risks
Setting up a network was sometimes a big hassle. But now thanks to wireless networks, the hassle of building a home or office network has been reduced. As a result, anyone can operate a network out of their home or small business. This is a great thing for consumers and has helped level the playing field for small business owners.
But one thing both home consumers and business owners need to realize, is that using a wireless local area network (WLAN) can lead to theft of sensitive information and hacker or virus infiltration unless proper measures are taken to secure your network.
Wireless networks send information from one computer device to another over radio waves. Anyone with a receiver in your area, including hackers and identity thieves could be picking up your transmission and gaining access to your computer. They could be stealing your data, loading viruses on to your computers or worse yet, your work laptop which could easily be spread to the company’s network when you are back at work.
It’s estimated that almost 75 percent of wireless network users do not have standard security features installed. What’s even more scarier is that of that 75 percent, as many as 20 percent of them have kept the default device settings for their wireless routers in place.
Take Steps to Secure Your Wireless Network
Here are FIVE steps that every wireless network user should take to secure their network:
1. Change the Default Administrative Password on your Wireless Router/access point to a secured password. Every hacker or Internet thief has a list of the default passwords for most commercial routers. Once you have configured your wireless device, you should immediately change the admin password. Your new password should be at least 8 digits long and use a combination of alpha-numeric and upper/lower case characters.
2. Enable the Highest Encryption Setting Available for your wireless router/access point and the network interface cards (NIC) of each computer on your network. Encryption is a method of encoding and protecting data before it travels over the network. This makes that data unreadable to anyone but the person or device that has the “key” to de-code the data. If the strongest encryption you have is only 128-bit WEP, buy a new router. Look for one that has at least Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), even better one that supports WPA2. The price of a good router is not as much as you think.
3. Change the Default SSID on Your Router/access point. SSID is short for Service Set Identification. An SSID, also called a “Network ID” is a name that you give your wireless network connection. The SSID makes it easier for computer devices that are searching for a connection to know that they are connecting to the correct network.
4. Turn off SSID Broadcasting. Setup your router/access point not to broadcast the SSID. When enabled, the Broadcast feature acts as kind of a beacon, helping devices find a network within range. Turning this feature off, prevents would be Internet thieves from easily seeing your network. This takes into account that thieves can’t break into what they cant see.
You should, setup your computer devices to connect to this SSID by default. This is done by manually setting each computing device and pointing it to the correct wireless SSID. Note: This feature may not be available on all equipment, but should be available on all newer wireless routers.
5. Enable the “Block Anonymous Internet Requests or Pings” Feature. This feature prevents your network or Internet IP address from being “pinged,” and detected, by other unauthorized Internet users. Every computer on your network, that has a wireless network card, should be configured to allow a connection to your network Only. Any settings allowing Computer to Computer (peer to peer) Connections should be disabled or turned off.
In addition, to blocking pings, your wireless router/access point should be set to Enable MAC filtering. This prevents connections to the network by unspecified MAC addresses. Every computing device has a unique Mac or Physical address. An example of this is your neighborhood and how each house has a separate address number.
There is no guarantee that your network will never be hacked, but taking the steps above will help to fully protect your wireless network. Following these tips will definitely lessen your risk of becoming a victim of would be hackers and Internet thieves.
Related Reading About Computer Networks
Introduction to Computer Networks
PC Network Overview – The Basics of a Network
What is a Network Interface Card (A.K.A. NIC)