Who is getting into your house?
By R Spinner
Wireless Network Security
Do you know that your wireless network is broadcasting outside your home? Did you know that it might be perfectly legal to use wireless networks that are not secured? How about yours, is it secure, are you allowing strangers to legally access your network from outside your home? Can they get access to your computers inside your home, your family's files, and your family's personal information? An insecure home computer network is essentially an open door into your house and personal life.
In my experience, at least one / third of the wireless computer networks in Martinez homes are improperly configured. Strangers can connect to many of these networks just by driving around with a Wifi* device. Personal and financial information can be read as it is broadcasted around the home, and families can be targeted for harassment or theft. Furthermore, it does not require any expensive or special hacking equipment to find these hotspots. Every standard computer, PDA, Sony PSP (Play Station Portable), or even a Nintendo DS portable game system can detect them, and access these home networks.
There are many reasons why people will secretly access your home network. Most of the time an access is harmless and often automatic. A neighbor's computer automatically logs onto your network, which is set to accept all connections. Friendly travelers may use your Internet connection to get their e-mail or other information from the Internet. Tech savvy teens and adults will log your network while wardriving*, which is a game where they drive around in a car locating wireless hotspots. They may even practice warchalking* where they draw symbols on the sidewalk or walls with chalk to let others know where free access is located.
But, sometimes people will hijack a home wireless network for wrong or illegal reasons. They know, by using an unprotected wireless network they can hide their true identities, and even point their guilt to other people. Misguided hackers* and script kiddies* get a kick from attacking network access points, injecting viruses and spy ware, testing exploits* and causing mayhem or disaster on the computers they can access. Thieves will look for financial assets or private information they can use, and steal. Terrorists can communicate, get instructions, and download bomb plans. Pedophiles use the Internet connections to exploit children, and upload, and download child pornography.
If you do not set special precautions you will never know. That is, until your ISP* warns you that you are exceeding your bandwidth*, or your identity, credit card and checking account gets hijacked, or law enforcement fingers you and or your system as a zombie*, hacker or pedophile.
Wireless equipment can be considered smart and dumb. Although, they can practically set themselves up, they do not know who should not have access to them. So by default, they may allow all to connect to the network. They digitally say, "Here I am, connect to me." Therefore, it is the owner's and installer's responsibility to tell the hardware who can and cannot access them. Otherwise, everyone nearby can connect to them.
These systems automatically broadcast, who they are, what they are, and how they will broadcast their data. In technical terms this is the type of system (802.11b*, 802.11g* the SSID* (service set identifier), and whether the system is encrypted* (none, WEP, WPA). Each portion of the network needs to be properly setup or the system will have security holes that can be easily exploited. If the SSID is not changed this will tell a potential intruder that the system has been left with the default settings and can be easy to take total control of. If the signal is not encrypted that means that all the data can be easily read as it flies 360' around the outside of the house or building. If it is not set to block new connections, your network may automatically connect to anyone. Moreover, if your wireless router is 802.11G, MaxG or extended range, your system may be accessed from a block away from your house and it can probably exchange data almost as fast as a DSL connection. It is the administrator's job to make sure the security settings are appropriate to the application of the system. The proper settings can hide the name or SSID, encrypt the data, and allow only certain hardware to join the network.
You can easily stop the intrusion by strangers, miscreants and script kiddies. First follow the instructions that came with your computer equipment. Ask friends and family for help with your network. Next, look on trusted websites for answers to specific problems. Finally, if you are still unsure, contact a computer service company for help.
My website www.skompit.com may be the place for you to start. I have a page dedicated to wireless router setup, including links to some router manufacturer websites. Further, I give many links to known and trusted security sites including the U.S government. My site is designed to provide help and information for the home and home office computer user. We will help make your computer safe for you, your family, and your personal information.
To provide good security here are my basic router setup recommendations:
1 Make sure to change the default settings of your wireless router.
2 Change the router access default password.
3 If possible, set your router to hide its SSID name.
4 Do not use your family name as the SSID name of the router.
5 Use hard passwords, of at least 8 characters long, containing numbers and upper and lower case letters. Example Gh67uJ9K.
6 Make a hard WEP or WPA key of at least 12 characters. Use numbers, and upper and lower case letters. Example kD50lLit789m.
7 Use WPA encryption if possible.
Bandwidth = The amount of information your system can upload and download. Can be limited by your ISP contract and system type. Usually refers to Broadband, cable or DSL.
Exploit = When used with computers is slang for a problem that has been discovered in hardware or software that can allow a hacker or script kiddie to change the intended function of that device or service. Example, the march Internet Explorer exploit that could allow hacked pages to be displayed as trusted websites.
Hacker = A highly skilled person who can modify systems as required to accomplish a task. The label Hacker can be applied to any high tech field not just computers. A computer hacker is also a programmer. A hacker can be good or bad.
ISP = Internet Service Provider (AOL, SBC DSL, Comcast Cable, ext.)
Script Kiddie = A semi skilled computer person who can use information and exploits discovered and packaged by hackers to accomplish a task. Script kiddies can be good or bad but are usually negligent.
SSID = Service set identifier, a name which makes the network easy to identify.
Warchalking = Marking an area with chalk showing where wifi access points are located.
Wardriving = Driving around in an automobile locating wireless access points.
Wifi = Generic acronym for wireless fidelity. Used to identify many wireless network types using the 802.11 standard.
Zombie = Is a computer that is unknowingly being used by hacker or script kiddie to send out digital information. A zombie can be used to relay viruses, attack networks, attack other computers, or relay secret e-mail. Zombies are often infected with special software known as Trojans that keep their activities hidden from their real owners.
802.11b, 802.11g = Wire-less network standards. Has to do with many aspects of the wireless system, Radio frequency, speed, fault tolerance, and more.
Mr. Spinner is the owner of Computer Security Specialists and skompit .com a computer services company. He has over 20 years experience as an Avionics Technician, repairing and testing high tech aircraft communications, navigation, and automatic flight control systems. Many of these systems have been computerized or are digital in nature. Further, he works with a team of computer enthusiasts and consultants to keep current with present and upcoming security issues.