Is Your Home Internet Connection Safe?

Learn how to prevent piggybacking and keep your home wireless connection secure.
May 2012
by Robin Wark

Wireless Networking (Wi-Fi) makes life at home a lot easier. Everyone can use their laptops, smart phones and other devices wherever they want. However, it can also be convenient for strangers to hijack your Wi-Fi connection. If someone is in a nearby building or even a car parked close by, they could make use of your Wi-Fi without your permission.

Called piggybacking, this bandwidth theft could hurt you by:

  • Giving them the opportunity to hack your computer via your Wi-Fi network.
  • Decreasing your Internet speed because you are sharing the wireless network.
  • Increasing your Internet bill, if you pay per byte of data transfer.

There are various tactics you can employ to ward off Wi-Fi thieves. A good place to start is by opening your router settings page. You can usually do this by typing "192.168.123.254" or "192.168.1.1" into your web browser and then entering the correct user name and password. Check your router’s user manual for this info. Once you are logged in, you can:

  1. Create a unique password for your router
  2. Keeping piggybackers at bay can be as easy as employing a strong password. Check out our article about the top 25 worst passwords of 2011 and how to choose a good password.

  3. Decide what to do with the SSID
  4. An SSID is the public name of your wireless network. To increase your Wi-Fi security, you can choose not to broadcast it. This will make it invisible to neighbors and passers-by using regular devices. Users would have to know the exact SSID and manually enter it in order to connect to it. On the router settings page, look for SSID and select "Disable/Off".

    In conjunction with this or by itself, you could also change the name of the SSID through the router settings page. This way, if you have disabled the broadcasting of the SSID, people can’t connect to your wireless network simply by guessing names such as "home" or "TheSmiths".

    Not broadcasting the SSID makes it more difficult to connect, which might frustrate some users. Another tactic, which some security experts recommend, is to name your SSID something "official" sounding to discourage piggybacking.

  5. Enable network encryption
  6. On the router settings page, you should be able to select the kind of encryption you would like. In most cases your choices will be Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or the newer WPA2. WPA and WPA2 are considered to be more secure than WEP. However, some devices, especially older ones, are not compatible with these types of encryption and require WEP.

  7. Filter MAC addresses
  8. You can set up your router so that only specific devices can connect to it. This is called MAC filtering. MAC stands for Media Access Control. A MAC address is assigned to laptops, mobile phones and other devices.

    You can find the MAC address for many smart phone by going to network settings. For laptops, click the "Start" button and type "cmd". Click to open it and type "ipconfig /all". Note: There is a space between the "g" and the slash. Now look for "physical address." This is the MAC address.

    Once you have the MAC addresses, you can enter them into the MAC address filtering in your router’s settings page. MAC addresses can be spoofed, but filtering does put another obstacle in the path of potential hackers.

  9. Reduce your router’s range
  10. It is great when you have a strong Wi-Fi signal throughout your house. However, how far does your wireless signal need to go? If you are in a small apartment or townhouse, a Wi-Fi signal extending far past your walls just provides an opportunity for piggybacking.

    You can reduce the signal range by going to the wireless or broadcasting options and changing the mode of the router to 802.11g instead of 802.11n or 802.11b. Or you can use less sophisticated methods, such as placing the actual router in a shoebox or under a bed to reduce its signal strength.

Outside of the options provided when you log onto your router settings page, there are some other security tactics you can try:

  • When you not going to use your Wi-Fi for a long time, such as if you are on vacation, you can turn if off completely.
  • Making sure your computers are secure. It is important to have an up-to-date security solution, such as ParetoLogic Anti-Virus, and a firewall. For mobile phones, security apps are recommended. Secure computers and devices will prevent malware from connecting to your Wi-Fi.

Your router makes computing – anywhere in your home – a breeze. It is important to take steps to protect your wireless connection.

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