Daddy Bob

DADDY BOB'S COMPUTER Q & A

 

Do I Need To Protect My Home Wireless Network?

By R.W. (Daddybob) Kober Ė www.daddybob.com

 

In a word YES! At the very least, there are several things that you should do and hereís why. In the router there is a setup that allows modifying its settings. This setup is accessed by entering the routerís IP address and password. Routers come with a generic IP address and either a default password or no password at all.

The routerís IP address and password can be found in the userís manual, but unfortunately they are also readably available from the Internet. The router also comes with a default SSID, Service Set IDentifier that is by default, set to broadcast the router manufacturer's name.

With the router manufacturer's name, anyone can obtain its default IP address and password with a simple Internet search. Then with this information and a laptop they can sit outside your house and access your router's setup and play havoc with it and your network.

For example, they could change the SSID to anything they want, causing you to broadcast a name composed of profanity that may be totally undesirable to you. They could install an access password or change its IP address that would prevent you from changing any of the router's settings. They could also set a wireless security password that would prevent you from using your own router to access the Internet from any of your wireless computers. And, they can do all of this without your knowledge and without being in your house.

Why, you ask, would anyone do a thing like that? Why do people vandalize schools and other public places, deface things with vulgar graffiti and the like? Because they can, and in this world, some get their thrills this way and believe they can get away with it without being caught. If this hasnít given you a reason to protect your wireless network, then you must enjoy living life dangerously.

Here's are four steps you can take to protect your wireless network and prevent this from happening. All of these should be done to your wireless network before any wireless computer is connected.

First and foremost, read the manual. I cannot stress this too much although very few ever do. It is very difficult to resist the urge to just plug it in and start using it. Second following instructions in the manual, you should change the router's access password. This is probably the easiest setting there is to change, and the most important. Once this has been done, no one without the password can change its settings. You could also change the routers default IP address but I strongly recommend against doing this unless you are very sure you know what you are doing. The third thing you should do is change the SSID to one that suits your situation so that your wireless computers can find the router when you set them up. You can, of course, choose to not broadcast the SSID at all, but then connecting wireless computers that you want on your network becomes more difficult. It is usually recommended that your SSID be broadcast and this in itself, poses no security danger.

The forth thing that is recommended is that you set up wireless security in the form of wireless encryption. There are usually three types of encryption supported, those being 64 bit WEP the weakest, 128 bit WEP middle strength and 256 bit WPA-PSK, the strongest currently used for home networks. WEP stands for Wired Equivalent Protection and WPA-PSK for WiFi Protected Access-Pre-Shared Key.

For most home networks, keeping out all but the most sophisticated hackers, the 64 or 128 bit WEP is probably adequate. 64 bit requires a 10 digit hex number and the 128 bit WEP requires a 26 digit hex number for the password. The hex number can be any combination of numbers from 0 to 9, and/or letters from A to F. Many ISPs will use the persons 10 digit telephone number as their password if they set up your system for you. For obvious reasons, this is not a good idea.

Donít use family names or important dates like birthdays or anniversaries as they are too easy to detect. Be sure that you remember the type of encryption and the password you have chosen as you will need it when you connect any wireless computer to your network for the first time. After that, the wireless computer will remember it, and connect automatically.

If you want anyone to be able to access your wireless network, you can skip the forth step. You still have total control of the router, but anyone can access the Internet using your network. If you want to control limited access, but not totally prohibit it, you can use a simple password and give it to those who you want to have it. If it becomes abused, you can easily change it.

Note here that if you have failed to set up a password to access the routerís setup as previously described, setting wireless access encryption is practically useless. If anyone can access the routerís setup they can easily find the wireless security password or change it.

Only computers connecting wireless are affected by this encryption. Any computer connected via an Ethernet cable to your router doesn't need the password. Of course, any computer connected with a wire is difficult to hide from you so unwanted access is not likely.

There are many other settings that can be made with your wireless router, and before you try them, read the instructions so that you donít change something you wish you hadnít. However, those mentioned herein should be adequate for keeping vandals and other unwanted people out of your network while still allowing you relative ease in connecting your own wireless computers.

One other note about routers. Most routers have a way for them to be reset to factory defaults. This is usually done by pressing a small button on the router. Check your instruction manual for this option. This option can come in handy should you forget a password, or some settings have been changed without your knowledge. Be advised that this will remove any settings that have been made and return it to the exact condition as when you bought it.

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