The topic of internet security is one that has appeared in various publications and in the media over the last 12 months. Internet users are frequently being told to make sure their computer is secure by using a NAT router for connecting to their ADSL connection (this acts as a hardware firewall), using Anti-Virus software and a software firewall. However, with the advents of wireless networking, security is becoming even more crucial. Broadband is becoming ever more popular, and so wireless networking is now increasing in popularity.
Since computers in wireless networks communicate with each other via signals in the air, the data is easier to intercept than the data in traditional wired networks. One threat to wireless networks is the practice of ‘War Driving’. This is where people drive around in search of an insecure wireless network with the aim of accessing it and most likely, causing some harm.
Wireless networks are now relatively safe enough for use in homes and businesses but it is worth taking some steps to prevent something untoward gaining control of the network.
Change default password on wireless ADSL router and if applicable, wireless access points. At the centre of a wireless home network will be a wireless ADSL router and possibly some wireless access points to improve the coverage of the network around the house. However, it is important that after purchasing this equipment that the default username and password for the router and wireless hardware is changed immediately as the default username and password could easily be found out by someone wishing to cause some mischief on the network.
Change the System ID - Wireless networking devices come with a default system ID called the SSID (Service Set Identifier) or ESSID (Extended Service Set Identifier). It is easy for a hacker to find out what the default identifier is for each manufacturer of wireless equipment and so it is necessary for this to be changed to something unique. It is important that the SSID is not changed to something that could be easily guessed by a prospective hacker. Many ADSL routers will allow you to hide the SSID.
Use Encryption – There are two common types of wireless encryption methods in use today. WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encrypt your data so that only the intended recipient is supposed to be able to read it. Unfortunately, WEP is known to have some holes in it and it can be cracked by a determined hacker. However, it is unlikely that a hacker will go to great lengths to crack it just to gain access to a residential ADSL connection. If possible, WPA encryption should be used (most older equipment can be upgraded to be WPA compatible). WPA fixes the security flaws in WEP but it is still subject to DOS (denial-of-service) attacks.
Use the firewall feature (if available) on your wireless router – Any wireless ADSL router worth its salt should have a firewall feature built in. If the one in your network does, make sure this is switched on as this adds an important layer of security to your network, and should stop any rogue data entering your network.
Enable MAC Address Filtering – Each piece of wireless hardware on the network has a unique identifier called a MAC Address. Wireless access points and routers keep track of the MAC addresses of all devices connected to them. MAC address filtering is when wireless routers and access points are set up to only allow access to the network from certain MAC addresses. However, it is possible for a hacker to fake a MAC address and gain access to the network. Software like AirSnare can also be used to only allow certain MAC addresses on the network.
Keep each computer on the network up-to-date – It is also important that each computer on the network is kept up to date with Windows security patches from Windows Update, and that each computer on the network has access to up-to-date software virus protection.