Wireless networks are ubiquitous technology; they’re everywhere. Anyone who’s ever lived in a dorm room, apartment building, or a tightly-packed neighbourhood will know how popular they are. And yet, most people do not secure them properly. They’re left wide open for anyone with a wireless device (which used to be just laptops, but now pretty much any smartphone or tablet is capable) to connect to.
Some may ask, “Why should I protect my wireless network?”, and the answer is very simple: because whoever connects to your network can do anything on the Internet that they can do somewhere else. What you’re mostly trying to prevent is some kind of illegal activity, and I don’t just mean file sharing. These malicious individuals are essentially using your identity to commit crimes on the Internet. Don’t be a victim to this.
In addition, if they’re able to connect to your network then they have access to all the devices on your network, including your PC and especially to any shared folders you might have. They can also use your Internet connection to waste your bandwidth, which might result in you receiving a much larger Internet bill. Lastly, since they’re on your network they can get to your router and if they get in there, they have 100% full control over your network and can block you from accessing the Internet.
Your wireless network’s access point is the router. This is the device that all other devices on your network connect to, so this is what you need to protect. The absolute, bare minimum you need to do is to change the default administrator password on your router. Step-by-step instructions on how to do that is beyond the scope of this post, but there are dozens of tutorials online plus your router should come with a manual describing the procedure. Choose a strong password.
Note: this does not prevent anyone from accessing your network. It does however prevent someone from taking control of it.
The first step is to choose a security protocol. WPA2 is what’s recommended. It has replaced WPA. Do not use WEP. Ever. It is not secure and can be cracked relatively easily. A simple Google search will reveal how easy this is. Again, choose a strong password; the security is useless if the password is easy to guess. Do not use the network’s name, your/siblings’ names, birthdays, etc. Instead use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. This is crucial. I want to stress that.
More Advanced Stuff
There are some more advanced methods to protecting yourself if you’re a little more paranoid or have very sensitive information flowing through your network. The next thing you can do is implement MAC address filtering. This limits the access to your network to individual devices, so even if they had your password, if they’re not on the allowed list, the person cannot connect. Note however that this isn’t bulletproof since MAC addresses can be spoofed (they would have to know what to spoof it to, though).
In addition to this you can stop your SSID (the name of your network) from broadcasting. In other words, the person would have to know the name of your network in order to even attempt to connect; in their list of wireless networks yours would be absent and they would have to add yours manually. Note that this method as well is not bulletproof.
Lastly, you can physically block the wireless signal using metal mesh (such as the material used for screen doors). Mold it into the appropriate shape and voila, you’re now blocking your signal from reaching say, the street, or your neighbour’s house. You may have to use more than one layer but it does the trick. Now the perpetrator has to be inside your house to get onto your network, which at that point your wireless network is the least of your concerns.
Protect yourself from becoming a victim of Internet crime, bandwidth theft, or simply being locked out from your own network or Internet connection. Take a few minutes to look into how you can secure your wireless network and you’ll thank yourself.