Securing your wireless network

Tips & Hints

29 May 2005

It’s estimated 80,000 homes have wireless networks. Our guess is up to 50% are not secured properly. How do you go about securing one?

The Australian newspaper recently discussed the lack of wireless network security. By definition, wireless networks are insecure unless precautions are taken. Probably fifty percent of WLANs we see are unsecured.

The danger of an unsecured network is real and we see the results regularly. The most common risk is having someone hijacking (we call it leeching) your Internet connection. The result could be massive excess Internet fees or a capped service.

One girl we know dropped her broadband Internet connection when she started hitching on her neighbour’s wireless LAN. Recently one of our techs once walked out of a home in Bronte, having just set up a new wireless, to find a couple snooping with a laptop. So people are out there looking for, and using, other people’s networks.

So you need to secure your wireless network. Luckily, the manufacturers are aware of these issues and provide a number of features that come built into most wireless equipment. Properly used, these settings will keep all but the most dedicated hacker off your system.

Before securing your network, you must read the manual that came with your wireless router or access point. If you get your settings wrong, you will be locked out. It’s also best to use a computer wired directly to the access point when configuring security.

  1. Wireless Encryption Protocol
    WEP is the basic security for a wireless network. This encrypts the wireless signal making it difficult to connect without the WEP passkey. WEP is older technology and newer encryption protocols such as WPA are becoming common.
  1. MAC Address filtering
    Every computer network point has a unique name, known as the Media Access Control address. You can set your wireless router to only accept connections from known addresses. Even if the neighbours can see your network, they can’t connect.
  1. Conceal your SSID
    Every wireless network has it’s own name, known as a Service Set IDentifier. Once you have set up your network, you can stop your access point from announcing the name. This makes it difficult for the neighbours to see the network.
  1. VPN
    A Virtual Private Network encrypts the talk between computers. While not strictly part of a wireless network, it adds another level of difficulty for someone trying to figure out how your network is set up.
  1. Reduce your power
    Many wireless routers and access points allow you to adjust the power used. The less signal that escapes your premises, the less likely an outsider can find your network. One everything is working, reduce the power to the minimum you need to connect.
  1. Secure your network
    To further hide your system from the bad guys, it’s a good idea to only share the minimum you need to share. Don’t share entire drives and don’t use the default network names generated by Windows.
  1. protect your system
    Trojan horses and viruses can creep onto your system and compromise your security. Make sure your system is kept up to date with latest security patches, anti-virus software and kept clean of spyware. The best secured network will be defeated by a well placed Trojan horse.

The aim of this is to keep your neighbours and their curious 15 year old son off your network. These settings will probably do that. But if the kid next door is a serious hacker, they can beat all this security.

As this article shows, setting up a secure wireless network is not for the faint hearted. No matter how much the product is improved, wired networks are more secure, faster and more reliable. We recommend only considering wireless networks if wiring a building is not feasible.
PC Rescue Pty Ltd, Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
ABN 36 082 635 765
ŠTechnology Publishing Australia, 2008