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How to Secure Your Wireless Router

If someone goes on the internet using your wireless router and commits a crime, you probably won’t be found liable. You will, however, get a visit from the police and they’ll treat you like the perpetrator until they learn otherwise. If that seems fine with you, consider this, they probably won’t come at 2pm in the afternoon with a polite knock on the door. They’ll come at 2am, with a battering ram, and have you handcuffed on the floor in your pajamas wondering what the heck is going on.

All because you failed to secure your wireless router.

Years ago, all you had to worry about with an open wireless network was that someone was going to slow down your Internet connection. These days, criminals are becoming savvier and looking to use open wireless networks to commit crimes.

Don’t Broadcast & Change the Name

Security through obscurity – hackers can’t break into something if they don’t know it’s there. The first thing you need to do is turn off broadcasting of the SSID – that’s the name the router goes by. When you turn off broadcasting, you can’t “look” into the air to see what routers are available.

By changing the name, someone can’t guess the name of the router as they fish for routers to connect to. If you left the name as “netgear” and turned off broadcasting, someone can blindly connect to your router because they know it’s name.

WEP & WPA Encryption

The second thing you need to setup with your router is encryption. WEP stands for Wireless Encryption Protocol and it’s the older, less secure sibling of Wireless Protected Access (WPA) – go with WPA or WPA2 if you can because WEP can be cracked fairly easil [3]y. You’ll have to look at your router’s instructions to know how to set this up.

Another reason to secure your wireless router and use encrypted communications is to prevent someone from “packet sniffing” your data. Since wireless signals are transmitted through the air, anyone nearby can collect that data and read it. Encryption is important because it makes that data unreadable (or at least very difficult to read).

When selecting a password for the encryption key, be sure to use strong passwords [4] – like you would a bank account.

MAC Address Authentication

Finally, you can tell your router which devices can connect to it. MAC stands for Media Access Control [5] and each wireless device (technically the network interface) has a unique MAC address that identifies it. By giving your router a list of MAC addresses that can connect, a random device can’t connect to your network even if they were to break the encryption.

MAC addresses can be faked, so this can’t be your only form of security, but the intruder has to know a valid MAC address on the list (which he or she could probably figure out if they were so inclined – just look at the other broadcasting machines in the area and try their MAC addresses).

Don’t Be An Easy Target

In the end, the key is to provide enough of a hurdle that the criminal moves on. Remember The Club for cars? The Club was a red bar that supposedly made it harder for someone to steal a car. One of its greatest triumphs was its color because it was easy to see inside of a car. A car thief, upon seeing the Club, would just move on. If I’m on a street filled with cars, there’s going to be one that won’t have the Club and I’m going to steal that one – why make things harder on myself?

You should apply a similar principle here. Just don’t be an easy mark. 🙂

(if you want some more suggestions on how to secure your home wireless network, PC World has a great article [6] on the subject)

(photo: roychung1993 [7])