How can I secure my home wireless network?

Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) and Wi-Fi offer users the ability to access the Internet at broadband speeds without the need for a completely wired network. In addition, wireless networking allows many different workstations to use one central access point.

However, wireless networks have security risks beyond those of a typical wired connection: since your neighbors, or anyone else within range, can potentially connect to your wireless access points, you should take extra security precautions when setting up your home wireless network. The methods listed below vary in their overall effectiveness, but remember that a hacker will probably try to find the path of least resistance with regard to breaking in to your network. The more of these measures that you take, the greater the chance that someone will simply move on and attempt to locate a less secure network.

Take the following actions to secure your wireless network and your computer:

Choose a strong administrator password

Most routers require an administrator password to access the setup and configuration settings. However, the default passwords for these routers are generally weak, and some have none at all.

You should change the default password to something strong; for ideas on creating a good password. Once you have set up your wireless network, you will probably not need to use this password frequently, so you can use a very strong password without worrying about ease of typing it in. If you do lose the password, you will have to reset the router to factory settings and set up your network again. You may wish to consider passphrase vaulting to store these passwords.

Some routers will also let you change the administrator name; if you have the option, this is another good way to protect the security of your WLAN.

Disable remote administration

Many wireless networking routers offer the ability to allow administration of the router remotely, from anywhere on the Internet. Unless you require remote administration and are very familiar with WLAN administration and security, it's a good idea to disable this feature. Otherwise, anyone connected to the Internet could conceivably gain administrative access to your router and your network.

Encryption

For best security, you should enable or set an encryption password. All Wi-Fi equipment will support a form of encryption; you should choose the most secure type that will work across all the devices that you need to connect.

If possible, use WPA2/WPA (Wi-Fi Protection Access) rather than WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy). In addition to the known weaknesses of WEP, WPA provides better protection and easier to remember passwords.

However, sometimes WPA2/WPA encryption is not feasible: Some devices, including PDAs and MP3 players, will only support WEP. In these cases, you should use WEP encryption, as it still provides some protection. If you do need to use WEP encryption, be sure to choose a robust, secure password, and change it relatively frequently.

Change your default SSID

Your SSID (Service Set Identifier) is the name of your network. Most commercial products have a default name (e.g., Linksys routers are usually set to "linksys"). You should change this default name, and choose a unique, robust name, preferably a longer one with letters and numbers. Your new SSID should not contain personal or sensitive information such as your name or address.

MAC address filtering

MAC addresses are unique to each network adapter, whether wired or wireless. Most wireless routers offer some sort of MAC address filtering, which will limit access to your wireless network to specifically allowed devices.

Specifying permitted MAC addresses can be time-consuming, especially if you have many wireless devices or change them frequently. Additionally, a knowledgeable hacker can easily spoof or fake a MAC address, so you should not rely on filtering alone to protect your WLAN. Despite these potential drawbacks, however, you should use MAC address filtering if possible; it can add a valuable layer of protection against unauthorized access to your network.

 
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