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Securing Your Wi-Fi Network

Free broadband Internet connectivity is definitely a good thing, but at the cost of others, not so much. Even though the issue of "stealing" bandwidth from unsecure Wi-Fi networks is still a grey area legally in most places, here are a few helpful tips on how help make sure your home wireless network isn't being used by the neighbors:

  • Change the default admin password for your router/access point. Most Wi-Fi routers use the same or a similar internal Web address for administering the access point, so if someone does get on your network and you're using the default password, you just gave them the keys to the kingdom.
  • Change the default SSID name. While this isn't really a security issue, it is an indicator to potential wardrivers as to whether or not you did anything other than take the unit out of the box and plug it in.
  • Disable broadcasting of the SSID. This way if people don't know the SSID, they can't immediately start attempting to get on your network.
  • Enable WPA/WEP Encryption. Use the highest level of encryption all of your devices support, preferably 128bit or higher.
  • Use MAC address filtering. Each piece of computer hardware with network capability has a unique physical address associated with it called a MAC address. Most access points allow you to auto-discover these addresses from devices attempting to connect, so it's generally pretty easy to set this up. By doing so, you're saying that unless I've entered the MAC address, I don't know who they are and want them to go suck lemons.
  • Disable DHCP and use static IP addressing. This one's often overlooked but is really quite simple. Simply count up the number of Wi-Fi devices you plan to have connect to your network, then assign a static IP for each one.
  • Use Firewalls. Each of your devices should have at least a basic firewall installed and active (see one of my previous posts on personal firewall/antivirus software). Makes sure your access point itself is at least blocking “standard” ports, as most provide their own basic firewall capability; this does not, however, mean you don't need a firewall on your PC.
  • Location, location, location. Where you decide to position your access point not only affects where the signal reaches inside your house, but where it reaches outside as well. You may need to run one or two network drops to get it to the ideal location central to your coverage needs, but you'll only have to do that once. And it's better to have most of the signal where you'll potentially use it, rather than leaking outside where someone else may try to use it.

Many people have their Wi-Fi devices on "auto-connect to open networks", which means if you don't secure your network some may connect without even knowing it. Take a few minutes to properly configure your access point after taking it out of the box, and you're less likely to be a victim of bandwidth theft.

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