Wireless networks offer users a ton of freedom in terms of flexibility, but there’s a catch. Users must protect their networks against hackers and other cyber menaces. Many assume their home router is not at risk, but with wireless networks using radio waves that can pass through walls, anyone’s network signal could go beyond their home. This means pesky neighbors, or even people just driving by, can access information off an unsecured home network. Fortunately, protecting your network from such threats is relatively easy and only takes a few steps.
The first step is buying hardware that is right for you. Depending on your needs, a mid-level or high-end router could cost anywhere from $50 to $250. Routers aimed at consumers for home use tend to be less expensive, while still offering all the essential features like wireless encryption, a built-in firewall and a four-port Ethernet switch for wired connections. More expensive routers are usually targeted at small businesses or multimedia enthusiasts, who need extra features such as wired connections at gigabit speeds and guest network access. With plenty of choices available from manufacturers like Linksys, Netgear, and Belkin, among others, determining what kind of network user you are is important to finding the best fit. Following the manufactured-recommended setup is typically painless, as most provide “wizards” to guide the process, including setting up basic security features. But suppose you want to double check your security, or aren’t sure it is set properly. In this case, you must manually enter the settings. This can be done by entering the router’s IP (Internet Protocol) address in a web browser, followed by the default username and password. This information can be found in the user manual, imprinted on the router, or if you’ve already misplaced the boxed instructions, a simple online search of the router model will likely produce such answers.
Once you are logged into your router, creating a unique password is key. Since most routers come with the same default usernames and passwords (sometimes just “admin”), hackers can easily log into a network that still uses the factory settings for administration access. Usually a combination of numbers and letters is best, but make sure the password is something you won’t forget, as you will need to enter it whenever allowing other devices onto the network. Changing the SSID, or Wireless Network Name, is another important step to securing a router, as most usually don the brand’s name or are pre-defined as “default” out of the box. This is basically a green light for people looking for a network to get into, as it typically indicates that a user hasn’t setup any security features. The SSID can be found under the basic wireless controls on a router’s settings page, while the password is usually located under the Administration settings. Creating a unique network name and password will not make a router locked-down secure, but they are certainly steps in the right direction. Next, users should enable a network encryption to prevent other computers in the area from using their Internet connection, as well as to protect data transmitted on the network. There are several encryption types for wireless settings, including Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2). The basic encryption WEP is the least secure and really shouldn’t be used, as it can be easily cracked. While WPA and WPA2 are the better choices, WPA2 offers the most security, though it is only compatible with hardware manufactured since 2006 and requires more processing power, which could slow down a network slightly. Users can enable these encryptions by opening the wireless security settings on their router’s configuration page. Choose a pass-phrase that is easy for you to remember, but would be difficult for outsiders to guess. Users will need this encryption key anytime someone wants to sign into their network.
Securely Connecting Other Devices
Once these security settings are enabled, users must add the new settings to their computer and any other device they will connect to the Wi-Fi network. Almost all current entertainment and office electronics can be connected wirelessly on a home network. Similar to the way an iPhone or Android smartphone scans for an available Wi-Fi network to connect with, so do wireless printers, HDTVs and gaming consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. Users can easily connect a Smart HDTV to their Wi-Fi by searching through the wireless menu on the television to find their home network, which will display the SSID name chosen by the user. From there, simply enter the password on the screen as you would with any other Wi-Fi-enabled device. The same can be done for Wi-Fi capable printers by associating the printer with the wireless network. Users can select to have these devices automatically connect to this network, so they won’t have to enter the wireless name and password every time.
Keeping the Piggybackers at Bay
Convinced that the people next door are using your Internet connection to feed their YouTube needs and illegally downloaded movies? Whether you want to ease your nerves or simply monitor who is on your network and what they are doing, there are plenty of ways to go about doing this. While there are various types of software available to let users observe their network’s activity, this can be done directly from the router as well. Most routers have some sort of log that relates to the activity on that network. These can tell users what devices are using the network and where those devices have been online, simply by displaying the IP and MAC (Media Access Control) addresses of the devices on the network. Users can also track the activity level of one device through these logs. The logs can be found on the same Web page used to change the router’s settings. Depending on the hardware, the logs may be labeled under Administration, Admin, Advanced Settings or Security. While it’s nice to think that people won’t take advantage of unsecured wireless networks, this sadly isn’t true. And rather than pay for Internet for your neighbors to use, while putting your information at risk, take these simple steps to protect your home network.