Securing Your Wireless Network

Securing Your Wireless Network

Your data is more valuable to hackers than almost anything else. Believe it or not, it is a common hacking practice to drive around residential neighborhoods looking for unsecured wireless networks. Don't believe me? Click the little network icon in the lower-right-hand corner of your screen and see how many of your neighbor's networks you can see from your office. I can see 24 different networks right now, and some of them are unsecured.

A Screenshot showing wireless networks in range
24 wireless networks are visible from my laptop
Am I Really at Risk?

Surely your Internet Provider and router were set up with security when they were installed, right? More than likely, you received the bare minimum security or even worse, a false sense of it.

For example, out of the 24 wireless networks detected from my living room, 2 of them are not password protected at all. I can freely connect to these networks, at which point I could run some popular free programs to intercept all of their network traffic. All of it!

Another 10 or so networks still have their default name of 'CenturyLink####', 'NETGEAR##', or 'XFinity###'. The next step after assigning your network a password is to change its default name. The default name is undesirable because it indicates to hackers that you have not taken any additional steps to secure your network. In many cases, a hacker will not bother with networks that have been renamed or appear secure. It is about finding the easiest target, not targeting everyone!

Once a hacker is inside your wireless network, they may as well be inside your home. Leveraging the lack of security on your personal devices, they can take control of device after device until you are essentially held hostage.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself?

There are several steps you can take to make it much harder for a hacker to infiltrate your home network. The very first step you should take is assigning a password to both your WiFi and your router. Yes, TWO passwords.

We are all familiar with the WiFi password: After all, it is the password everyone asks for when they come over for a BBQ. If you already have one, great! Just make sure it is strong and includes a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.  If you don't have one, you can typically set it from the configuration menu in your modem or router.

How Do I Log Into My Modem/Router?

Logging into your modem or router are critical to securing your wireless network. It is from the configuration menus for these devices that you can set network and hardware passwords, change the name of your network, prevent unauthorized access and more.

Every device has a different method for logging in, but it typically involves accessing it through an Internet browser like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge.

For my modem, I open Firefox, navigate to the address bar and type in the Internet Protocol (IP) address associated with the modem. I happen to know that this is 192.168.0.1 for me, which is a local IP address assigned to the device on installation. I also have a router at 192.168.1.1, so if you have multiple devices you may find yourself in a similar situation.

Modem Login Splash Page
The login splash page for a CenturyLink modem

You will likely need to experiment with these IP addresses if you don't know your modems, but it may also be printed on the device itself or written in your documentation from your service provider.

Once you're inside, you can set passwords for both the wireless network and for access to the modem. You should change the username to something other than 'admin' so that you are not an easy target and assign a strong, different password for each.

Advanced Steps

So you changed your network name, assigned a strong password to both your WiFi and your modem or router, and you feel good about security. What else can you do?

A number of advanced topics are covered in our upcoming Power User blog series, covering:

  • SSID masking
  • MAC filtering
  • Network sniffing
  • Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks
  • Encryption

Stay tuned to our blog to stay up-to-date on the best residential security practices to keep you and your family safe!

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