How To Secure Your Home Wireless Network: Part II - InformationWeek
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2/9/2007
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How To Secure Your Home Wireless Network: Part II

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

Miss Part I? Here it is: Part I

What do I do about wireless security?
You can take three really simple steps to dramatically increase the security of your wireless network. It is not foolproof wireless security, but it will keep you from being an easy target and it will keep most of the riff raff out.

As Figure 1 shows, there re plenty of easy targets out there, so all you need to worry about in most cases is the curious neighbor or someone specifically looking to access a network with no protection at all. The steps in this chapter will not keep out a really serious hacker; if you have reason to worry about a hacker specifically targeting you (as opposed to someone hacking at random), however, you can hire a security specialist, or better yet, just do not use wireless. For the vast majority of you, though, read on.

Figure 2 shows varying degrees of wireless home network security and the vulnerabilities related to the networks.


Figure 2. Wireless Security Examples

So what are the four things you need to do?

  • Change your router's password.
  • Do not advertise your network (turn off SSID broadcast).
  • Scramble (encrypt) your wireless signal *use WEP or WPA).
  • Do not use ad-hoc networking.

Before we get into the "How to Do It" section, let's take a closer look at the "what" and "why" of wireless network security. Do not worry if this seems a bit complicated; it really is not. The "How to Do It: Securing Your Wireless Network" section walks you though the setup so that these basic security features can be turned on in a fairly painless way. Trust us here: It is a far worse pain to have people get on and take advantage of your network than to implement these steps.

Change Your Password
Pretty much every router on the planet comes with a default password of admin. If you don't change this immediately upon turning on and connecting to your router, you are asking for trouble. You need to open the screen where the password gets changed anyway, so do yourself a favor. Chapter 8, "Tip 8: Create Strong Passwords," explains how to create strong passwords.

Do Not Advertise Your Wireless Network
Every wireless router is given a name that allows clients (wireless-enabled computers) to find and associate to it. This name is called the service set identifier, or SSID. The first thing you do to greatly improve the security of your wireless network is not to broadcast the SSID.

Most wireless routers have the broadcast SSID setting turned on when you take them out of the box. This feature announces the name of your network to every wireless-capable computer within range. Although this makes it easy for you to connect to your network, it makes it easy for the rest of the neighborhood too. Turn this feature off (we show you how later in section "Stop Advertising Your Wireless Network"). In addition, remember that knowing the name of a network (even if the broadcast function is turned off) gives you the power to get on that network, so you should choose a random SSID name. The same rules that apply to any password apply here, too, so take a look at Chapter 8.

Any SSID that is easy for you to remember is probably easy to figure out, so avoid SSIDs that include your name, the word home, the word network, or anything related to your name-home-wireless-network. We suggest that you rename the SSID to something personal (but not easily guessed), or use a random combination of numbers and upper- and lowercase letters. Do not worry about having to memorize this; you can just write it down and keep in a drawer or a folder where you can access it later if you need it. Remember, however, that these steps only keep out the nosy neighbors and provide your router with some level of anonymity, but this step does not by itself protect your network.

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