Securing Your WiFi Router

WiFi is everywhere (in my condo my Macbook Pro can see about a dozen WiFi routers at any given time), but so are people who are willing to steal your connection. For example, a writer for Time Magazine talks about the fact he stole WiFi for years because he didn’t want to get his own Internet access. The fact is, stealing Internet access is a crime. One that police are starting to take seriously. What’s the big deal you ask? Often these people simply want your bandwidth. But consider this: If they have access to your WiFi network, they potentially have access to every computer on that network (and whatever is in those computers).

That’s scary.

What’s even scarier is the fact that these people can be using the bandwidth that you are paying for to do illegal activities. I’ll use this bizarre case of someone using a WiFi network to download child porn as an example.

So, how do you protect yourself? You need to secure your WiFi router. That will make sure that the bad guys stay out of your network. How do you do that? This is what I do at home:

  1. Change the admin password on your WiFi router: This way, nobody can reconfigure it for their own purposes. While you’re at it, you should disable remote administration as well. It’s usually off by default, but you should make sure.
  2. Change the default network name (a.k.a: SSID): By doing so, it stops the most common way of stealing WiFi. Which is to configure a laptop to automatically connect to the anything named “Default”, “Linksys”, or “Netgear” which are the default network names for D-Link, Linksys, and Netgear WiFi routers, as anything with those network names is likely to be wide open.
  3. Once you’ve changed the network name, stop broadcasting it: By not broadcasting the network name, it will stop casual WiFi thieves. More determined WiFi theives will still be able to find it, but they’ll be thwarted by item number 4.
  4. Encrypt WiFi transmissions using the WPA or WPA2 standard: Most WiFi routers have the ability to encrypt transmission using one of three standards, WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) which is weak, WPA (WiFi Protected Access) which is strong, or WPA2 (WiFi Protected Access version 2) which is stronger. WEP should be avoided as it has been proven to be crackable in minutes (click here for a Google search that shows the number of ways this is possible). Using one of the WPA variants will ensure the bad guys stay out. Enabling encryption also means that you need to add a password so that computers can access your WiFi router. Avoid easy to guess passwords by picking something that is 7 to 12 characters in length, containing at least a numeral and a special character (for example: p4$$w0rd instead of password).

Every WiFi router is different, so consult your manual or check the manufacturers website for details on how to do this. But by taking the time to do the above, you guarntee that the only person using your bandwidth is you.

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