How To Secure Your Home Wireless Network: Part I - InformationWeek

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2/7/2007
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How To Secure Your Home Wireless Network: Part I

The first segment of a chapter from book 'Home Network Security Simplified' which details how to make sure that your home PC wireless network is secure. Also, Part II.

Here are Parts II through VI:
Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V, and Part VI

It is pretty likely that you are currently (or will soon be) using a wireless networking device in your home. Wireless is great for all the flexibility it affords when it comes to setting up a home network, and it is cool when you want to surf the web or check e-mail when you are on the deck, or couchor toilet (like you've never done it).

Wireless is affordable, flexible, and easy to install, and in general we highly recommend it. The problem is that to make it easy to install the manufacturers turnoff most if not all the security features so that it connects easily out of the box. In fairness, most of the manufacturers we have looked at do have quick-start guides that show how to enable security, but as we demonstrate in this chapter many people just don't bother. This could be an expensive mistake if you consider what it costs to repair your credit history.

Why should I care about wireless network security?
Access to a wired network is easy to control because people have to be physically inside your house to plug a computer into the router. With a wireless network, people just have to be in the proximity of your house. Physical barriers such as windows and doors do not control access in this case, so we have to take other steps to block intruders.

The security issue with a wireless network stems from the fact that the signal is omnidirectional. Unlike a wired network, where signals are fairly well contained, the wireless signal goes everywhere in all directions (including up and down for those of you in multistory buildings) for 300 feet or more. Anyone who wants to gain access to your signal need only put a receiver (a computer with a wireless card) inside the signal range.

Very Important: Why would someone want to access your wireless network? Well, there are lots of reasons. One of your neighbors could "leech" onto your network just to receive free Internet access. Although irritating, this is not all that harmful in itself, if all they are doing is browsing the Internet on your dollar. However, "war drivers" (people who drive around looking for unsecured wireless connections) or professional hackers could use the access to obtain your personal information. For example, eavesdropping while you are conducting an online purchase could expose your credit card information. They could also access the computers on your network.

One of the most unusual illicit uses of unsecured home wireless networks also offers perhaps the strongest reason yet to secure your wireless network. Recently, several instances have surfaced in which people conducting illegal activities used unsecured home networks for the anonymity that they can provide. One fellow parked in a neighborhood, easily gained access to an unprotected home wireless network and downloaded huge amounts of illegal child pornography. He was caught and arrested, but because of a traffic violation, not the downloading. (The police noticed the pictures on the computer after they pulled him over). If someone commits illegal activity in this manner, it can easily be traced to your broadband subscription, and you could end up having to explain to the authorities (and your family) that it was not you or other family members conducting the illegal activity.

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