Hey Buddy Get Off My Wireless
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You are in a coffee house, or in a hotel…just how secure is your laptop? What can you do to make sure your data is safe? Recently, a group of researchers took an 800-mile drive in San Jose, California. They detected over 3,600 wireless access points. Nearly 40% of those networks were wide open. CNN ran a special on what is called “warflying”. This is when an airplane flies over heavily industrialized areas to find wireless networks. CNN reported that on their warflying trip, over 3000 wireless networks were detected, and over 60% of the networks were not protected. Is this a problem?
Why is it so important to encrypt my data? Isn’t my network safe within my house? Wireless networks can extend beyond your house, into your neighbor’s house, or across the street. This means that a neighbor or someone out on the street can easily find your network, and since it is not encrypted someone could easily utilize it for malicious or illegal activities. A lot of damage could be done, especially if you have “file sharing” turned on. This means that individuals could access your files, your images or your financial data. They could even see what Internet sites you have been visiting. Also, when I say access, this means that they can also take those files and download them to their own computer.
Can it get worse? Unfortunately yes. Most individuals leave the default password as their password for their router. Hackers love this. When this is done, hackers can log onto your network, make changes, and lock you out of your own network and Internet. And, if your router logs network activity, they will have a nice log of all of the sites you have visited. OK, that’s bad, but what else. Well, if you let you imagination run free for minute, if a hacker is able to use your internet connection anonymously, then he has no fear of committing illegal activities. The hacker can visit illegal sites, make comments about the government on online forums, and they can use your network to send out thousands of spam emails. The hacker can simply disappear leaving you to deal with the legal mess.
So, how can you protect your network?
1. Turn of broadcasting of your SSID. The Service Set Identifier is a broadcast message notifying every device within range of your network’s presence. SSID’s can be sniffed in plain text from a packet. Turning off SSID will not provide encryption or enhanced security, but it will hide your network from hackers.
2. Change the default settings of your router’s Web-based administration. This will stop hackers form changing your settings. This includes changing your admin name, your password and your SSID. Why change the SSID? Your SSID could be “Netgear” or “Linksys”, hackers would know that the manufactured default password and username is “admin”.
3. Enable WEP or WPA encryption. WEP (Wireless Equivalent Privacy) or WPA (Wireless Protected Access) these two forms of encryption force the user to enter a password, which is encrypted, before they can access a wireless network. Unfortunately, WEP can be hacked and is not the most secure method. WEP is a deterrent, but not the complete answer. WPA however has not been cracked yet and is used on most new WiFi devices.
4. Allow access based on MAC Address. (Machine Access Code) All network computers have a unique MAC address. This allows each computer to be individually identified. A great way to protect your computers from unwanted access is to set your wireless router to only accept certain MAC addresses. This will limit access to your network by only allowing computers with the correct MAC address. Check with the manufacturer of your router as to how this can be done.
As you can see below, it is quite easy to get the default Username and Passwords for wireless routers.
A few other ways you can protect yourself
Be aware of people around you. I am constantly surprised by the information individuals give over their cell phones in public places. Be careful when you logon to your Internet account, pay attention to those around you. Last night while in the Café with friends at Barnes and Noble, I watched as an individual no more than 1 foot away from me, pulled out his credit card laid it on the table beside him, and began entering information to logon to the local Barnes and Noble service.
When you are at a public hot spot, use Web-based email. Most web based email websites generally use (SSL) Secure Sockets Layer or other security protocols to protect your data while it is being transmitted.
A biggy is to make sure that file sharing is off. A lot of you use file sharing in your office or at home to share your files and your printer. When you are at a hotspot, there is no need to turn file sharing on…that is unless you want to share your files with everyone there.
Use strong passwords for sensitive folders and data on your computers. Most of us are extremely conscientious about the contents of our wallets and purses; the information on our computer should demand the same respect. Drive safely on the information highway!
This article was written by Stephen K Knight. You may use this article on your website, or email copies to friends as long as the article remains in its completed form.
This article is copyright © 2006 FMWebschool, Inc. http://www.fmwebschool.com