Wireless is one of the great enabling technologies of recent years. With wireless devices, you can do anything on a local network or on the Internet that you can do using a stationary wired connection. The key word is “convenience,” but anyone who knows me knows that when I see the word convenience and anything about computers or data networks on the same page, my first thought is “security breach.”
Don’t get me wrong...I love wireless. I use it. I help administer a wireless network on my job. I even wrote my master’s dissertation on wireless networks. All the same, I know that wireless is dangerous when handled improperly and current statistics show that most people using wireless on their home and small office networks aren’t handling their wireless systems properly at all.
If you have a wireless access point or wireless router, did you reset the default username and password before you put it into service? If not, you are among the estimated near 50% of home wireless users whose networks are wide open to bandwidth thieves, snoopers and spammers. Wireless makes it easy for you to access your home or small office network and all the data you have stored there and all the devices you have connected. An unsecured wireless network is just as easily accessed by anyone who happens to be nearby with a wireless laptop and this puts your data and your network account at risk.
“Wardrivers,” hackers who drive around looking for open wireless networks, can access your network connection through an open wireless access point. Some wardrivers are just in it for the sport and might send a couple of e-mails to their colleagues to prove they were able to access the network, but they could just as easily use your network to send a few thousand spam e-mails which, if traced back to you from the header information , could get you in hot water with your Internet service provider.
Unsecured wireless is an invitation to identity theft because of the amount of personal data that so many people leave on their desktop and laptop machines. Personal data exists in the files you leave on your system and in the browser cache and history files, the “Recent” folder, temp files, system logs, swap files and many other places the ordinary computer user would never suspect. If your wireless access point is “open to the public” anybody can locate and copy all of that data in minutes and examine it at leisure and you would never know your system had been breached.
Part of the problem of wireless security is the number of wireless access points and routers that are running in their “out of the box” configuration, which means they are all using the same userid and password, so means that any hacker who examines your access point will identify the make and model and then try the default userid and password that were installed at the factory.
I could go on, but I hope I’ve scared you enough that you’ve begun looking for the user’s manual for your wireless router or access point to see if you followed the setup instructions correctly. Details vary as to how to secure your wireless hardware, but here are three elementary steps that you should take toward locking down your wireless connection.
Three other things you should do to help secure your network.
Be aware that there is no such thing as perfect security in the online world. Most personal computers are used as communication devices which means they’re at least partially open to allow data can flow in and out, so your PC and your network are never absolutely locked down. What the steps I’ve laid out here will accomplish is to make it more difficult for someone with bad intent to get into your system and get his hands on your stuff. The more conscientious you are about data and network security, the less likely you’ll be to find you’ve been “owned.”
You can e-mail specific computer questions to Roy Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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