Are you broadcasting an unsecured signal? If you are, you might be supplying a free connection for the whole neighborhood. A lot of people are doing this unknowingly. I can sit in my backyard and see at least five wireless Internet connections from my laptop. Two of them are unsecured. That means anyone can connect without a password and use the Internet for free. This also means the information being transmitted on those networks will not be encrypted.
There a few things you can do to secure your wireless network.
- Use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2). Check the manual your router came with for instructions. If you cannot find the manual check the manufacturer’s website. This setting will encrypt the information passed between your wireless device and the router. Windows XP computers SP2 and lower might not support WPA2. You can obtain a patch here or just upgrade to SP3 from windows update.
- Use a random generated password as your encryption key. Don’t use common things such as “password” or your address. Make sure you write it down and keep it in a safe place.
- Change the SSID (Service Set Identifier, the name of your wireless connection) from its default name. I had a client who had the same SSID as the business next door. Their wireless devices were connecting back and forth causing the Internet to work one minute and not the next. If you have a unique name it will be easier for you to distinguish your connection from another and help prevent connections to the wrong network.
- Use a firewall and antivirus software to help prevent unauthorized connections to your computer. Viruses and trojans can put you at risk even if you use a secure connection. There are many free firewalls and antivirus programs you can use.
When you are using the Internet over a wireless connection you will always have a higher risk of sensitive information being intercepted. The steps I listed above will reduce your risk but it will not eliminate it. I would NOT recommend using a public WI-FI access point such as those at gas stations or restaurants to log in into bank accounts, email, or other sensitive areas of the Internet as these connections are often unsecured. An unsecured connection could also leave your computer at risk for “Peeping Tom’s” if you have shared files and folders.
The internet can be a very useful tool or your worst nightmare. So, please surf safe. Use the security tools that are available and enjoy your freedom with wireless networking.
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