While the security problems associated with wireless networking are serious, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. The following sections describe these steps.
Make Your Wireless Network Invisible
Wireless access points can announce their presence to wireless-enabled computers. This is referred to as “identifier broadcasting.” In certain situations, identifier broadcasting is desirable. For instance, an internet cafe would want its customers to easily find its access point, so it would leave identifier broadcasting enabled. However, you’re the only one who needs to know you have a wireless network in your home. To make your network invisible to others, see your access point’s user manual for instructions on disabling identifier broadcasting. (In Apple wireless networking, this is called “creating a closed network.”) While this kind of “security through obscurity” is never foolproof, it’s a starting point for securing your wireless network.
Rename Your Wireless Network
Many wireless access point devices come with a default name. This name is referred to as the “service set identifier” (SSIS) or “extended service set identifier” (ESSID). The default names used by various manufacturers are widely known and can be used to gain unauthorized access to your network. When you rename your network, you should choose a name that won’t be easily guessed by others.
Encrypt Your Network Traffic
Your wireless access point device should allow you to encrypt traffic passing between the device and your computers. By encrypting wireless traffic, you are converting it to a code that can only be understood by computers with the correct key to that code. For more about encryption, see the US-CERT Cyber Security Tip “Understanding Encryption,” http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST04-019.html.
Change Your Administrator Password
Your wireless access point device likely shipped with a default password. Default passwords for various manufacturers are widely known and can be used to gain unauthorized access to your network. Be sure to change your administrator password to one that is long, contains non-alphanumeric characters (such as #, $, and &), and does not contain personal information (such as your birth date). If your wireless access point does not have a default password, be sure to create one and use it to protect your device.
Use File Sharing with Caution
If you don’t need to share directories and files over your network, you should disable file sharing on your computers. You may want to consider creating a dedicated directory for file sharing, and move or copy files to that directory for sharing. In addition, you should password protect anything you share, and use a password that is long, contains non-alphanumeric characters (such as #, $, and &), and does not contain personal information (such as your birth date). Never open an entire hard drive for file sharing.
Keep Your Access Point Software Patched and Up to Date
From time to time, the manufacturer of your wireless access point will release updates to the device software or patches to repair bugs. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s web site regularly for any updates or patches for your device’s software.
Check Your Internet Provider’s Wireless Security Options
Your internet service provider may provide information about securing your home wireless network. Check the customer support area of your provider’s web site or contact your provider’s customer support group.