Security Scene: Securing Your Wireless Network
When I was in college at Devry Institute of Technology
in Chicago, I used to get excited about this time of year. Why? Because it’s Back to School season and I always looked forward to returning to campus to see my friends who I hadn’t seen all summer. In those days we didn’t really use computers (remember typewriters and word processors?) so I didn’t have to worry about securing my wireless network, but times have changed and now many students will be returning to their dorms with their own laptops.
Since Back to School time is upon us, I thought this would be a great time to share some tips for keeping your wireless network nice and secure:
Always install active and up-to-date anti-virus software: You’ve heard me say this time and time again but I keep repeating myself because it’s so important. You can reduce the damage attackers may be able to inflict on your network and wireless computer by installing active and up-to-date anti-virus software. Many security programs also have additional features that may protect against or detect spyware and Trojan horses. If you’re a Comcast High-Speed Internet customer, you can download the McAfee® Security Suite for no additional charge at www.comcast.net/security.
Change the default password: Your wireless router has an admin interface that you can use to change a number of settings. The router ships with a factory default username/password you use to get it setup, however, if you don’t change that password it is possible for a stranger or a cyber criminal to log into your router’s admin interface. Change the password to something other than the default. Keep in mind that an ideal password is easy to remember but hard to guess.
Restrict access: Your Social Security number is used to uniquely identify you in a variety of places and for a number of purposes. Your network devices have something similar to a SSN called a MAC address. These MAC addresses are unique for each device, and many routers can limit access to your wireless network based on a list of allowed MAC addresses. If a device with a MAC address not on the list tries to connect, it will be denied. Keep in mind that you’ll have to keep this MAC address list on the router up-to-date (if you get a new computer, or WiFi enabled phone, you’ll need to add that MAC address
to the list).
Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt: Data streams back and forth from your computer to your wireless router through the air (hence the term ‘wireless’).Make sure you set your wireless network encryption to WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access). Encryption makes it much harder for someone to look at your wireless network’s traffic without your knowledge.
Protect your SSID: Whenever you’re out and about with your laptop you’re bound to see wireless networks with names like ‘linksys’ or ‘FREE WIRELESS WIFI.’ Those names are called SSIDs, and a wireless router generally broadcasts them to advertise the fact that a wireless network is available. It is a good idea to change your wireless router’s SSID from the default to something meaningful to you. If you’re a little extra paranoid you can also set your wireless router to not broadcast the SSID. This way only people who know what your wireless network is called can attempt to join it (since wireless routers vary so much from one to another you’ll have to check the documentation to find out to do this on your wireless router at home).
These five tips are a good start to making sure your wireless network is more secure. Check out the Comcast Security Channel www.comcast.net/security for more security tips, and to download some tools that’ll help keep your computer safe.