It is easy to get alarmed and shocked if people with guns barge into your house and cart off your jewelry, cash, and other valuable possessions. It’s also easy to be concerned when armed thugs accost you on the street and force you to empty your pockets or forcibly direct you to an ATM to withdraw all your money. Yet, more and more thefts are happening over wireless signals and there’s hardly as much alarm as over physical threats. As more and more people access the Internet through wireless networks, the number of people exposed to wifi-based hacking, phishing, and other security threats is also exploding.
Protect yourself from wifi-based security threats
We’ve prepared the following resource page to help you protect yourself from common wifi-based phishing, hacking, and “data sniffing” attacks. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Using these simple, commonsense, and practical tips will let you avoid the headache of having to get your credit cards reissued, your accounts closed and new ones opened, dealing with your insurance company, and other time consuming hassles.
Reasons to encrypt and password protect your wireless network
Many routers are shipped with default settings that have no passwords set. Here are just the most common reasons why it’s a bad idea to keep your router at it default settings.
1) Prevent freeloading. Your neightbor might be downloading huge files which, depending on your ISP broadband plan, might leave a dent in your pocketbook if he exceeds usage limits.
2) Prevent illegal use. Spammers might use your unsecured wireless connection to send spam or illegal files. All with your IP address on it. Viruses can also spread through unprotected wireless networks.
3) Prevent your data from capture. Hackers run many eavesdropping programs that intercept wi-fi information over the airwaves. Using a password and tough encryption protocol make their jobs much harder.
How to Pick the Right Wi-Fi Security Setting
There are several wireleass encryption protocols available. They are not all alike. Each have differing security vulnerabilities. Depending on your hardware, select the most secure setting available. If your hardware’s security setting is limited, you should seriously look into upgrading your equipment.
WEP – Wired Equivalency Privacy – This is an old encryption standard used by your wireless adapter when sending information to a router and used by the router to receive information. This is a relatively old standard and is easily cracked by wireless hacking tools. Don’t select this option as your wireless encryption standard. If your notebook router’s wireless settings is restricted only to WEP, look into upgrading your hardware. Better to shell out a few bucks more than lose a lot of money and time in addition to peace of mind if your sensitive information is stolen or intercepted.
WPA – Wi-Fi Protected Access – While more secure than WEP because of required encryption, the WPA protocol was originally meant as an intermediate protocol for wireless equipment manufacturers to adopt while they waited for the full specifications of the WPA 2 protocol. While a step up from WEP, avoid this choice if you can.
WPA2 – Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 – This is the latest and most secure wireless protocol. Always choose this setting. However, depending on how your wireless driver and adapter are set up, just because you are using the WPA2 setting, you may still be vulnerable.
PSK WPA mode – Pre-shared Key – The PSK mode is often selected for small offices or home wireless networks to easily allow differing devices to share wireless access. It is very vulnerable to password brute force or guessing attacks if the password used is very short. To fix this problem, use longer passwords.
WPA TKIP – Temporal Key Integrity Protocol – TKIP is an added security layer added for the WPA protocol. However, it can be compromised if your wireless driver is configured to have other wireless features like Quality of Service (QOS) turned on. To avoid this problem, don’t use TKIP (use AES instead) or use TKIP but turn off the QOS feature.
Make sure your Operating System supports WPA2
Make sure your OS is up to date so it can support WPA 2. If your OS requires patching or updating to provide WPA 2 protection AND there’s a newer version of your OS (For example: You are running windows XP and Windows 7 is available), look into upgrading your OS to the latest family in your operating sofware’s family. Of course, do this if your system’s hardware can accommodate the OS upgrade. If not, you may also look into a hardware upgrade.
Best Practices for Wireless Settings on your Computer
1) Change your wireless access passwords periodically. Set up a schedule for swapping passwords.
2) Always use the longest allowed password.
3) Use random combinations for your password
4) Set your laptop to use wireless only when it is not plugged directly into your home/office LAN
5) Restrict network access to your files and folders
6) Always use Firewall software to protect your computer from network attacks
Be careful of public networks
1) Avoid “listening outposts” used by hackers to trick you into giving up your sensitive login/password information. Check the connection types available. Beware of networks labeled “Free Wi-Fi network” or other similar “free” networked names. These wireless connections harvest your information once you log on to it and access sites. The have no encryption and no passwords are required.
2) Avoid misleading network Ids. Some hackers use network ID names that are deceptively similar to the real free wireless network available in the hotspot you’re in. To make sure you’re using the right (and safe) network, ask an employee of the establishment you’re in for the proper network ID.
3) Avoid Peer to Peer networks. Some hackers use peer to peer networks with enticing names like Free Wireless or Public Wi-Fi Channel or other similar names. These are easy to spot because the icon for these channels differ from the regular wireless icon. Many of these don’t connect you to the Net. They are aimed at finding vulnerabilities with your network sharing settings. If your laptop is improperly setup, these hackers can access your files. When the peer to peer network does connect you to the Net, whatever data you send or receive is vulnerable to capture or decoding. It is better to avoid Peer to Peer networks once and for all and use standard access points.
4) Avoid using Open public networks. While most access points now have encryption, there may still open hot spots that use really old wireless equipment that don’t have encryption. Hackers merely need to eavesdrop and harvest your data.
5) Avoid visiting sensitive sites or downloading sensitive information when using public networks.
Avoid insecure wireless devices
Avoid wireless keyboards and other data input devices with very low encryption. These send data directly to your computer and don’t pass through the wireless router’s secure encryption protocols. Wireless keyboards are very easy to hack into. The only drawback is that the broadcast range can be quite limited. It’s better not to take any unreasonable risks though since if a determined hacker wants to steal your keyboard data, that hacker will find a way. Don’t give him that chance. Switch to regular keyboards.
Your network security is ultimately in your hands
Just because a threat is invisible doesn’t make that threat any less harmful. Don’t rely on your network equipment’s factory settings to protect you. Invest a little time reading the manual for your router to protect your computers data. A little time spent researching network security pays off when you calculate the amount of money and time lost due to unsecured network settings and risky wireless browsing practices.