Wireless Internet access has to go down as one of the handful of best technological advances in the last 10 years. It’s hard to even remember what it was like before we could hit the Web from any device we choose while sitting on the porch, watching TV or lying in bed.
Unfortunately, as great as home WiFi access has been for us, it’s been even better for hackers of all stripes. Cybercriminals love to sit in coffee cops and airports and eavesdop on public WiFi sessions, but when you’re at home it’s not them you need to worry about; it’s your cheap/nosy neighbor. If he’s too tight with a dollar to get his own wireless router, he might jump onto your network instead, and while that may not cost you any money, it could cause you serious security problems.
So here are five tips to help stop your pesky neighbors from pirating your WiFi signal.
1. Enable WPA2 encryption. This is the simplest and most effective step you can take. WPA2 is used as an authentication and encryption mechanism to ensure that only people who know the secret key to your router can get on the network. If the wireless router you have doesn’t support WPA2, go get a new router. WEP, the older wireless encryption procotol, is badly outdated and of little use as a security measure. Many routers handed out by ISPs such as Verizon and Comcast support WPA2 as the default encryption protocol now. This can be turned on during setup.
2. Enable MAC filtering. Every device that connects to a WiFi network has an identifier known as a MAC address that acts a unique fingerprint for it. In order to prevent unknown people from connecting to your network, you can enter the MAC addresses of each of the devices you use regularly in the administration panel for your router. That will stop any device that’s not in the approved whitelist from connecting.
3. Change the SSID. If you bought a wireless router on your own, the name that it sends out over the air to let WiFi devices know it’s available is typically just the manufacturer’s name, such as Netgear or Linksys. Change that to a random name during setup. The default passwords and IP addresses for the major commercial WiFi routers are available all over the Web, so anyone who can identify the brand of router you have may be able to find the default password as well, and if you haven’t changed that, he’s in business.
4. Change the default password. A competent hacker knows the default IP addresses and passwords for the major consumer routers by heart, so change yours as soon as your router is up and running. Don’t take any chances with this. Some of the routers installed by ISPs even have the SSID and password printed on the outside of the router itself. Change. This.
5. Yell at your neighbors. There have been several court cases in the U.S. where people have been held liable for actions taken on their home WiFi networks by unauthorized users. Don’t take any chances with this. Have a look in the admin panel of your router on a regular basis and see which devices are connected. If there’s more than you recognize, have a little chat with the guy downstairs and let him know it’s not appreciated. Then go back and read through the first four tips again to be sure you’re as locked down as you can be.