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How Secure is your WIFI Connection?
Author: Jerry Heinz May/01/06
Having more than one computer in your house is starting to be a common thing, as well as homes that have a desktop computer as well as a laptop computer. What about the Internet? everyone is turning to high-speed internet solutions for there home and business, and with having more than one computer they are choosing wireless network options instead of having cables running all over the place. Great idea? Yes, but.. are you exposing yourself to others without knowing it? YES!

All the manufactures of WIFI (wireless) routers have made it very easy to setup a wireless network and many people are doing just that, they take the WIFI router out of the box, hook it up and once they see the "Network Detected" window and seeing they are on the Internet they think they are all set. They are, but not securely and that is were the problems start. Without securing your WIFI network you are opening yourself up for others to access your computers and files as well as use your Internet connection for surfing the Internet, sending out emails (and Spam) as well as downloading illegal material. If someone was to do just that, use your connection without you knowing it and was to do something illegal, who do you think would be in trouble? YOU! why? Because the illegal activity would point back to you, the true criminal is transparent and unable to be located. I'm talking about someone down the street from you, the next block over, or even an office working in a different building from a different company across the street.

Think about this, you go shopping at a retail store that is using WIFI with there computers and they didn't take the time to secure their network, you make a purchase and pay using your credit card. A theft a block away is has gained access to the stores network and has obtained your information and credit card number and within minutes has already sold this information to other thefts on the internet, later that month you receive your statement and it has charges on it from all over the world, you have to explain to the credit card company you didn't purchase those items, close that account and hopefully don't have to worry about your credit becoming ruined because of this. As you think to yourself, how did this all happen? Remember you didn't know that retail store a month ago was running unsecured WIFI network, just like the retail store didn't know a theft a block away was accessing their network steeling your credit card information.

What is a person to do? Secure your WIFI network, and that is fairly simply and outlined in owner manuals provided with WIFI routers, but who reads owner manuals right? Well now that you know what could happen, perhaps its time to start to read them. The most common form of protection with a WIFI router is to set up what is called WEP Keys, (WEP means Wired Equivalent Protocol). Most routers have a few different WEP Keys to choose from, with either 40bit or 64bit encryption, WEP keys are hexadecimal codes that allow an authorized computer to talk to the router. In some cases your can also create your own WEP Key and this increases your security a lot, the higher the encryption the better, this method uses what is called a pass-phrase, (not a password) a pass-phrase is simply that, a phrase like "the cow jumped over the moon". If you setup your own WEP Key you may need to use a WEP Key generator that is either provided by your router manufacture or freely available on the internet. When creating a pass-phrase do not use your name, street address or a single dictionary word, also do not use common phases like "the cow jumped over the moon".

Now that you are using a WEP Key, or better yet created your own Key are you 100% safe? Nope, sorry but hackers have come up with tools that not only will detect your WIFI network, but by using Brute force utilities will crack your WEP Key by sending 10's of thousands of key combinations at your router and gaining access into your network. The average computer using this type of tool can generate about 60,000 guesses per second for a 64bit-encryption key. But how many hackers are cruising your neighborhood looking for a wireless connection to tap into? You would be surprised! Hackers need an Internet connection to send Spam, use stolen credit cards, and access sensitive bank information stored on your computer. Once on your wireless network connection, nothing can be tracked back to them, after all they are using your IP address (a unique number assigned to your Internet connection). The hacker has the same control over your computer as anyone else on your network and since he is a hacker, he probably has more control than you do. Don't feel overly secure just because you created a customer WEP Key. A simple hacker tool can break a 40bit-encryption key in less than a few hours.

So how can you be 100% protected from outside intruders? Here are a few basic steps that any home user or business can do.

1. Use a custom 64bit WEP Key for you WIFI router and computers. For real security mix up numbers, letters (upper/lower case) as well as symbols in your pass-phrase. E.g. (Th1$ ls @ gR3at daY~!)

2. Turn off the DHCP server in your router and assign a static IP address to each computer and use non-routable addresses, like 192.168.x.x or 10.x.x.x

3. Use a software firewall on each computer allowing only the IP addresses you have assigned to each computer within your network

4. Block all inbound traffic to your router and computers whenever possible.

5. If you turn your computer off at night, also turn off your WIFI router, this will prevent hackers from even seeing your connection.

6. If you have Windows 98/ME computers, password protect each shared drive, if you use Windows 2000/XP convert and FAT drives to NTFS and setup users to allow access into shared folders or drives.

7. Create a file that contains all your usernames and passwords, preferably an encrypted file, then when your accesses anything online that requires a username and password, instead of typing them, use the copy/paste command, this will prevent keyloggers from getting your passwords.

8. Using a utility, encrypt/password protect any files or documents that contain sensitive information on your computer. Rule of thumb, if you don't want anyone seeing it, it should be under lock and key (encrypt & password).

All these suggestions may seem a lot, but are fairly easy to setup and yet allow you the benefits and freedom that WIFI has to offer. For more information regarding how to securely setup a wireless network for you home or business please contact our computer department at J&J Electronics.

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