Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to Protect Your Home Wireless Network

The vast majority of households today utilize a wireless network to get online. Unfortunately all too often I see homes with wireless networks that are unsecured. Software and an increase in tech savvy criminals make network hacking a more common occurrence. Often, victims aren't aware it's happened until it's too late. Securing your homes wireless network is a critical first line of defense in preventing computer infections, identity theft, etc. The problem I hear from customers is; "How do I do it?"

Here's 9 easy but effective ways to secure your home wireless network

1.  Give your network a unique name
Avoid naming your network a generic name which makes it easy to locate or identifies it with you. Street names and house numbers let hackers know exactly where and how close they need to get to access your network more easily. Use a unique name - be creative!
2.  Password protect your network
Often we choose passwords based on names, birth dates, etc. Passwords like these are easy to crack for a dedicated hacker. A secure password should include a combinations of capital letters, numbers and special characters (!-@-$-%-*, etc). This makes it extremely difficult to hack. An example of a strong password would be; H@cker21!
3.  Think about where to position your router
Don't put your router by a window or close to any doors. The closer it is to the exterior walls, the stronger the signal is to the outside world. Placing your router in the center of your house is ideal, but might not be an option. Putting the router in your entertainment cabinet surrounded by other electronic devices can lower the signal so it's less likely to broadcast outside your house while retaining a good signal inside.
4.  Disable SSID broadcasting - Highly Recommended
SSID (Service Set IDentifier - for tech savvy folks) allows anyone to see your network in the local vicinity. For example, when you are trying to connect to your network you see your neighbor's network. Seeing your neighbors network indicates their SSID feature is enabled. By disabling it you ensure no one in the immediate area can see or access it. Your routers user manual will show you how to disable this feature. Don't worry it's super easy!
5.  Use parental controls within your router
Most people don't realize this feature exists, but it's extremely useful if you have children. Avoid having to change your browser settings on individual computers for your children by modifying the parental controls directly on your router. This allows you to block access to websites with content not suitable for children before it even comes into your home. Parental controls on computers are much easier for older children to disabled compared to parental controls on a router. Again your routers user manual will have step-by-step instructions on how to do this.
6.  Disable remote router access
Disabling remote access prevents hackers from accessing your router from another remote location through the Internet. This can easily be done within your router settings. (Yep... see your router manual)
7. Enable MAC filtering
A Media Access Control (MAC) address is a unique identifying number that each connected device in your home has. Enabling MAC filtering in your router settings (user manual will has instructions) allows you to control which devices have access to your network.
8.  Turn on the firewall
Firewalls are simply a virtual barrier designed to prevent unauthorized access or communication between computers. All routers come equipped with a built in firewall and by default it's usually turned on. Make sure to check that it's enabled and always verify that it's on when setting up a new router or your home network. (you guessed it... check your manual)
9.  Use the highest encryption setting available on your router
This is another easy setting to modify in router (user manual). Newer routers (2008 and newer) offer 3 types of wireless encryption. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2).
WEP - WEP encryption is an early encryption technology that has proven vulnerable to security hacks. Only use WEP if it's the only available encryption type. Some is better than none.
WPA - Significantly more secure than WEP because it adds an additional protocol that scrambles data and verifies the security hasn't been tampered with. (this is a very generic explanation because explaining encryption is an article by itself)
WPA2 - Provides stronger protection and control over who accesses your network compared to WPA. WPA2 utilizes the same encryption security as the US Government. (regardless of what you may here, our governments network security is essentially impenetrable). When selecting WPA2 security home networks use WPA2-Personal.
I hope you find these tips helpful and easy to implement. Your wireless router is the first and arguably the most important line of defense in protecting your network and sensitive computer files.

Links to wireless router user manuals
Linksys (Cisco)

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