Wireless Networking Safety

In my last column, we covered the importance of webcam security, and I promised to delve into home wireless network security next, so here we go!

At our workplaces, most desktop computers are traditionally connected to a network via a system of cables.  At home, however, it may be more difficult to connect PCs to the Internet.  You probably don’t have network cables running throughout your house, though I’m sure that some home builders now offer this on new construction projects.

This is where wireless technology can make your life a lot simpler.  A wireless router is often connected directly your Internet modem or it might be a modem/router in one unit.  The wireless router sends a signal through the air, sometimes as far as several hundred feet.  Any wireless-capable device within range can pull the signal from the air and access the Internet.  This includes:

  • iPhones, iPads, or Android Smartphones
  • Smart TVs
  • Laptops and Wi-Fi printers
  • Gaming consoles

Many home desktop computers don’t come with the ability to receive a wireless signal.  If that’s the case with your device, you can purchase a wireless network adapter for your PC.  The simplest ones connect to your PC’s USB port and require very little set up.  I’d give this job to the teen in your household who uses the gaming console.  Chances are, she or he will have it figured out in no time!

Let me point out, however, that unless you take certain precautions, anyone nearby can use your wireless network.  That means your neighbors or any hacker parked nearby can connect to your network and access information on your devices.  If any unauthorized person uses your network to commit a crime or send spam, the activity could be traced back to your account.  Once you go wireless, you should password-protect the connection to your network to ensure it’s encrypted.  That way, no one can eavesdrop on your digital communications.

Encryption scrambles the information you send into a code that’s not accessible to others.  This is the most effective way to secure your network from intruders.  Two types of encryption are typically used for this purpose:  WiFi Protected Access (WPA) and Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP).  Your router and all your wireless devices must use the same type of encryption in order to communicate to the internet and each other.  The newest wireless routers will use WPA2, which is the best choice as the encryption level is the higher than WPA.  Wireless routers often come with the encryption feature turned off.  You must turn it on.  The directions that come with your router should explain how.  If not, check the manufacturer’s website.

Now, I may be straying from my “in plain English” concept here.  I do apologize if this is somewhat technical, but it’s so important!  We all love the convenience of portable technology and easy access to the Internet, but it’s worth it to take wireless network security seriously.  It’s your first line of defense against attacks from strangers who could gain access to sensitive personal or financial information on your devices or seize control of your router and direct you to fraudulent websites.

Here are the steps to take to secure your wireless router:

  1. Change the name of your SSID (service set identifier) from the default. Keeping the name from the factory makes you a target as it indicates that you probably didn’t change the default password either.  Avoid using your home address in the title as that’s also an easy target.  It’s fun to make the name something unique (see funny ideas below).
  2. Change your router’s default password(s) – every router has an administrator password used to log in and change settings as well as a Wi-Fi password that gets you on the internet. It’s best to use long and complex passwords, at least 12 characters, with a mix of numbers, symbols, upper-case and lower-case letters.  An easy-to-remember, average-length sentence with proper punctuation and capitalization is almost impossible to crack, but easy for you to remember.
  3. Turn off any remote management features
  4. Log out of the administration page when you are done configuring your router
  5. Keep your router up to date – the software that comes with your router needs occasional updates. Visit the manufacturer’s website to see if new versions are available to download.  Register your router with the manufacturer and sign up to get updates.
  6. Secure all other devices, too – use protections like anti-virus, anti-spyware, and a firewall, and keep those protections up to date.

Wireless home security systems have exploded in popularity.  Systems such as Ring use WiFi and cameras to let you see what’s going on around your home.  They may allow you to view your cameras remotely, so you can see what’s going on even when you aren’t home.  However, there have been too many stories about hackers who have cracked weak passwords on accounts, logged into cameras, and even spoken through the systems to unsuspecting family members.  Imagine how scary it would be to find that the very system you implemented to keep you safe has been compromised!  These systems need the same security precautions as all your other computer devices.

And now for something a bit more light-hearted!  Here are some funny Wi-Fi names for your network’s SSID.  No, I did not make these up!  It’s all Google, folks!

Mom Use This One

Abraham Linksys

Benjamin FrankLAN

Martin Router King

John Wilkes Bluetooth

Pretty Fly for a Wi-Fi

Bill Wi the Science Fi

I Believe Wi Can Fi

Tell My Wi-Fi Love Her

No More Mister Wi-Fi

LAN Solo

The LAN Before Time

Silence of the LANs

House LANister

Winternet Is Coming

Ping’s Landing

The Ping in the North

This LAN Is My LAN

Get Off My LAN

The Promised LAN

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