Archive for March 2010

Are You Broadcasting From Your Home?

You Might Be and Not Even Know It

Laptop computers have made computing mobile and very convenient. Wireless routers in our homes have made it possible to use our computers anywhere in the home, and not just where the connection comes into your home.

If you have a wireless router at home, then you are using one of three possible levels of security, 1) none, 2) poor and 3) what you SHOULD be using. “None” is real simple, open the box, plug in the router, connect to the Internet. With this connection, ANYONE within range, meaning your neighbors, passersby and that annoying teen-age kid down the who likes to hang around your house in the evening can use your wireless network to access the internet or worse, access your computers at home. Also, any illegal activity over the Internet is going to be traced back to your home, not to the person or computer that may have done it.

I often tell the story of the time I moved here to Austin from Sacramento 5 1/2 years ago over the Thanksgiving holiday. I stayed overnight with a friend in Flagstaff, Arizona at her parents’ home. Lots of relatives were there and they all smoked (and smoked a lot). Even though it was 35 degrees outside, I went and sat in my car for an hour just to breath fresh air. While in my car I powered up my laptop and discovered a completely unsecured network within range. I connected to it and took the opportunity to check my email and do some web surfing. Then the good Samaritan in me decided to do them a favor. I figured they hadn’t changed the default password on their router, and sure enough I was right. I logged onto their router and took a screen shot of it. Since they were also using the default name for their computer network, I changed mine to match and could see that they had a computer turned on with one of their hard drives shared (no, I didn’t peek at it.) I also saw that they had an Epson printer connected to it, so I downloaded the printer driver and installed it on my laptop, opened Microsoft Word and pasted the screen shot of their router into it. I also included instructions on how to keep prying eyes out of their network, thanked them that I was able to check my email, and then I PRINTED the document out on their printer. Keep in mind I have no idea which house I had connected to. I imagine if they were home that they were a little shocked to have their printer start all by itself and print a note from a complete stranger. Lucky for them I wasn’t someone who wanted to copy their files, plant a virus or lock them out of their own network.

The two levels of security that are usually displayed with a padlock symbol are WEP and WPA. WEP falls into the “poor” category of security. WEP will keep honest people out of your network, and will prevent someone from accidentally getting connected to your network, but WEP was “cracked” several years ago, and nowadays it only takes a laptop and 60 seconds to break into a network secured with WEP.

What you should be using is WPA (or WPA2) to provided a connection that (with a good password) can’t be cracked in a comfortable lifetime. Log into your router (usually at http://192.168.0.1 or http://192.168.1.1), go to the wireless security settings and set it for WPA. Then change your laptops and other wireless devices to match.

There are many different routers on the market, but there are a few standard rules to follow: Changing the security settings on your router should always be done with the computer attached to the router via a network cable – don’t change it over a wireless connection. If you make a mistake, you won’t be able to get back in to fix it. In the wireless security settings on your router, you will see WEP and SHOULD see WPA as options. If you don’t see WPA as an option, your router is probably several years old. Go to the manufacturer’s support page on their web site and look for updated “firmware” to download. Download the firmware and update the router per the instructions provided by the manufacturer. If the latest firmware doesn’t provide WPA encryption, then it’s time for a trip to Best Buy or Fry’s for a new router. ANY new router will provide WPA encryption. At Fry’s you can pick up their house brand router for $20. Next use a strong password. A strong password should be at least 12 characters long, feel free to make it a lot longer – the longer the better. Be sure to use upper and lower case letters, use numbers AND use special characters like # * ( } [ @ ! &. Write it down and put it in a safe place. If it helps, use 2 or 3 non-related words or numbers that you know but no one is likely to guess. Something like maybe the city you got married in with the year of your first car and the name of your brother’s daughter. It might look something like [email protected]!Samantha#. Even people you know you won’t guess this. Be creative and have fun, but MAKE IT STRONG!

Until next time….

Laurie Scott / Tek-Chic Systems

“Because Everybody Needs a Geek in Their Life”®

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