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Security

TIPS ON SECURING YOUR WIRELESS NETWORK

Understanding How a Wireless Network Works

A typical wireless network consists of a wireless router connected to an Internet “access point”, like a cable or DSL modem. The wireless router sends a signal through the air, possibly as far as several hundred feet. Any computer within range which has a wireless card can pull the signal from the air and access the Internet.

Unless you take precautions, anyone with a wireless-ready computer or mobile device can use your network. This means your neighbors, or any nearby hacker, could “piggyback” on your network and possibly even access information on your computer. Also, if an unauthorized person uses your network to commit a crime, the activity could be traced back to your Internet account.

What You Can Do to Secure Your Wireless Network

1. Use Encryption: Encryption scrambles the information you send over the Internet into a code so that it is not accessible to others. Encrypting the connection between your computer and your wireless router is the most effective way to secure your network from unwanted guests.

    a. Two main types of encryption are available: Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). Your computer, your router and other equipment must use the same type of encryption. WPA2 is the strongest and we suggest you use it if you have a choice.

    b. Some older wireless routers only use WEP encryption, which is the weakest form and is easily hacked. Consider buying a new wireless router with WPA2 capability.

    c. Wireless routers often come with the encryption feature turned off. You MUST turn it on. The directions that came with your router should explain how. If they don’t, check the company’s website or contact your local computer expert.

2. Secure Your Computer and Wireless Router.

    a. Use anti-virus, anti-spyware software and a firewall on your computer and keep your software up to date.

    b. Change the name of your wireless router from the default. The name of your router, often called the “service set identifier” or SSID is likely to be a standard, default ID assigned by the manufacturer. Change the name to something unique that only you know.

    c. Change your wireless router’s pre-set administrative password. This is a critical step. Hackers know the pre-set passwords so change it to something only you know. Use passwords that are at least 8 or more characters long and have a combination of upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Remember, the longer the password, the tougher it is to crack.

3. Limit Access to Your Network.

    a. Allow only specific computers to access your wireless network. Every computer that is able to communicate with a network is assigned a unique Media Access Control (MAC) address. Wireless routers usually can be configured to allow only devices with particular MAC address to access the network. The directions that came with your router should have instructions on how to configure this feature. If you have difficulty, consider contacting your local computer expert. Keep in mind though that some hackers have mimicked MAC addresses, so don’t rely on this step alone.

    b. Turn off your wireless network when you are not using it. If you turn off your router when you are not using it, you limit the amount of time that it is susceptible to hackers.

Don't Assume Public W-Fi Networks are Secure

Be extremely cautious about the information you send and receive from a public wireless network. Many coffee shops, hotels and airports offer wireless networks for their customers to use. These “hot spots” are convenient, but they may not be secure. We recommend NOT using public Wi-Fi for accessing any financial web sites such as Online Banking. For more information, check out our tips for using public Wi-Fi.

Resources:

Cisco Wireless Router Support: http://homesupport.cisco.com/en-us/support

NETGEAR Wireless Router Support: http://support.netgear.com/

Belkin Wireless Router Support: http://www.belkin.com/us/support

Apple Airport + WiFi Support: http://www.apple.com/support/airport/

 

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