How to Secure Your Wi-Fi Network

Bboyhurricane, a member of the LockerGnome community asked: “How do you tell if someone is using your Wi-Fi?

With the proliferation of Wi-Fi as a primary access method for home networks, the inherent risk of someone gaining access to your network unknowingly increases considerably. Someone would typically have to go through a lot of physical trouble to tap into your network on a wired basis, including breaking into your home and attaching a physical cable to your router. With Wi-Fi, your signal is broadcast freely across a significant space, and is accessible by anyone in range of that signal. A quick look at your computer’s discovered Wi-Fi networks will no doubt reveal multiple nearby access points, each belonging to one of your neighbors. So, how do you keep a nosy neighbor (or worse) from accessing your private network from the comfort of their home? Here are a few tips on how to secure your Wi-Fi network:

Secure Your Network with a Password Using WPA2

I’ll start this paragraph by stating clearly that there is no magic bullet for network protection. Some security methods are harder to crack than others, but they can all be cracked with a relative amount of ease. Most users, despite being told otherwise time and time again, still use words found in the dictionary to keep their private networks secure. Needless to say, these networks can be cracked in minutes by someone who knows what they’re doing, or has a script that knows for them.

When setting a password on your router, you’ll want to select WPA or WPA2 (preferably) as your encryption method. WEP is an older and much less secure encryption scheme that can be cracked in seconds, no matter how complex your password is. WPA and WPA2 will make it slightly more difficult for someone to crack, making it more likely that they will give up and move on to the next person if they’re wardriving or just casually attempting to chisel at your defenses.

Keep Your Private Folders Unshared

Having access to your family album on a shared network drive sounds like a great way to add a level of convenience to your network, but it could also give someone you don’t know or trust access to more information about you and your family than you’d care to share. The same goes for important documents like scanned copies of marriage licenses and birth certificates. Keep this information under lock and key, and even when it isn’t shared freely, take steps to encrypt the folder in which it’s stored. One great method for adding a level of security for a shared drive or NAS is by requiring a password on the device itself for access. This means that even if someone has access to your network, they’ll need a login and/or password to access the shared data on each individual system.

Check Router Access Logs

Each router is different, but most of them made today keep a detailed list of all the devices that have connected to it during its lifetime. MAC addresses and basic device information are kept in this list, which is usually only accessible by wired connection to the router or a special administrative login to the Wi-Fi. Check this list every once in a while, and make note if anything out of the ordinary appears. You could also take the extra step of giving each device in your network a network ID that follows a specific naming scheme. This will allow you, and your family, to quickly identify an intruder in this list.

Never Use a Default Password

This goes along with a previous tip, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make a complex password that includes numbers, letters, and various other characters. Default passwords, even when provided by your ISP, are typically easy to crack. In addition to being the same across all routers in a particular product line, they tend to follow a specific pattern that a well-written script can compensate for. A cracker knows that Linksys (now Cisco) routers have a specific default password setting, and will try those first. Just because “pancake42” sounds like a safe password doesn’t mean that it is.

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