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Is your wireless network secure?

Mar20

Written by:
2009/03/20 08:07 AM RssIcon

I am parked outside your house / office in my car. I have my laptop open, with my wireless network card active. I scan the area and find numerous network access points. Two are secure but three are not. I choose one, it has a good signal. I connect, and viola I have network access. I am not interested in hacking your computer. What I am interested in is bandwidth. I check my e-mail, read the online news. Start downloading stuff. Conduct my online business. Tomorrow I will go somewhere else and make use of someone else's bandwidth. This truly is an open office.

This little story might sound a bit far fetched, but yet it is every bit truthful in its application. Many people actually do this. With wireless networking becoming more widely spread, and home and office users using ADSL, the router/modem of choice is a wireless one. With laptops now, and wireless cards available, and the new Operating Systems, it is all too easy to set up a wireless network. It is all plug and play.

The problem is if you haven't secured your network correctly, someone might and could steal your expensive bandwidth. If you are experiencing that your bandwidth cap has been exceeded for no reason. In other words, you cannot account for using the bandwidth yourself. Then you might well be a victim of bandwidth theft. This is not always the case, but a possibility.

So how do I secure my wireless network? First understand that a wireless network is not like a normal cable network, where only those who have direct cable access to the router or hub can have access. A wireless network, by definition, does not need cables the  connection is made over the air waves.

Every wireless router has different ranges. In other words, anyone can see the network from a certain maximum distance. The signal strength normally is an indication of the range of the router. The closer you are, the stronger the signal, generally.

IF other people can see my network, is that a problem. Not really. Being able to see another network is not a guarantee that you have access. Parked outside someone's house in the street, you are able to see all the houses around you, yet you might not have access to any of them. They might have security installed, locked gates and doors, alarms, etc. This is the exact same thing when in comes to wireless networks.

Just as your house or office is secured and accessed via a key, a wireless network is secured via a encrypted key. Now you do not give your key away to strangers, nor do you leave your door unlocked, then the same should apply to your wireless network.

As long as you have your encryption set to require a password in order to connect, even if your neighbours (or random passers-by) can see your network in their wireless directories. When you set-up your router, you have opportunity to set up a key.

If you've got a choice in the matter, use WPA2 (the second generation of Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption instead of WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). It's quite a bit more advanced and, as a result, much more secure. It's a better set of keys, if you will.

Another precaution you might consider is limiting the amount of devices that can connect to your WAP (Wireless Access Point). You can do this most effectively by setting up a MAC address filter (Machine Access Code. Do not confuse this with the Apple Mac computer). A MAC address is a unique identifier given to all networkable devices. You network card, router, even your cell phone has one. By limiting who can connect to your network, you effectively block other users and devices.

Your router may have this feature, wherein you should be able to list a set of machines that are able to connect to the access point by using their MAC addresses. Every networkable device has a MAC address, whether you knew it or not.

Most wireless routers allow you to set your own SSID (Service Set IDentifier) to be hidden. This should make your network invisible (or at least unnamed) to anyone casually browsing networks locally, but be aware that it's really not that hard for anyone with a will to identify it. It's like de-listing your telephone number. It might not be visible, but with a little effort, you telephone number can be found.

There are some other things that one can do to make it just that bit more difficult for the bandwidth thief.

  • Switch off your router when you're not using it. If it is off, no one can see or connect to it.
  • Put the router as far away as possible from the street, but in a central place where your own devices can connect to it.
  • Change your security key from time to time. Although the encryption now days is very strong, it takes a lot to crack these.

Ok, so I am not outside your house or office, but someone else might well be. Check your network now, and fix it.

Oh, by the way, I would be interested to know if after you have checked your network, if it was secured or not? Perhaps your is secure for sure, perhaps you did not even know about it. Let us know. Has your bandwidth been stolen in the past?

Enjoy your security, behind your closed doors and closed network.

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9 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Is your wireless network secure?

very good advise, here is a cool gadget one can get to find vulnerable networks.

By Arné on  2009/03/20 09:53 AM
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Re: Is your wireless network secure?

sorry here's the link

http://imod.co.za/2009/02/03/i-got-a-wifi-watch-for-free-and-its-awesome/

By Arné on  2009/03/20 09:53 AM
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Re: Is your wireless network secure?

Arne`,
LOL, very cool. My nephew just uses his HTC phone. Works like a charm.

By Robert Bravery on  2009/03/20 09:55 AM
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Re: Is your wireless network secure?

Its amazing how many local business still ignorantly protect their networks with the outdated wep protocol, which can be cracked in a matter of minutes! Internet bandwidth is a commodity since its so expensive! So I wonder if these businesses don't care or if their IT department are not aware of the weakness in their network security.

By distros on  2009/03/20 04:52 PM
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Re: Is your wireless network secure?

Distros,

You're right. I think a lot of so called IT, pull the wool over so many an employers eyes. All you have to do is talk a good talk, and you can fool the uneducated.

By Robert Bravery on  2009/03/20 04:55 PM
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Clpostingguide

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Sarah

http://www.clpostingguide.info

By Sarah on  2009/04/24 04:02 PM
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Re: Is your wireless network secure?

Sarah,

This is much appreciated. Just your mention that you enjoy the posts, is an encouragement to me. So keep it coming. Also, If you have any topics that you want covered, don't be shy in mentioning them.

By Robert Bravery on  2009/04/09 02:23 PM
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Re: Is your wireless network secure?

cool stuff man

By Kevin on  2009/05/28 10:50 AM
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Re: Is your wireless network secure?

Thanks Kevin :)

By Robert Bravery on  2009/05/28 01:50 PM
 
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