If yours is anything like the average American household, you have a wireless router connected to your high-speed internet connection. This router is likely acting as a DHCP server, passing out IP addresses as requested and granting access to your network, but more importantly, it is also broadcasting a radio signal that allows you to connect to the internet with any number of your WiFi-ready devices. After all, that is probably why you bought it in the first place.
However, along with the convenience a wireless router provides, comes some risk. If not properly secured, you may be providing free, unfettered internet access for your neighbors, the random passerby, or even someone with the intent on using it for malicious, illegal activities. Here are some of the best ways to protect yourself.
1. Enable Encryption
When encryption is enabled, only devices that have entered the correct encryption key (or, password) can transmit and receive data to and from the router. Additionally, even if any of your encrypted traffic is intercepted, the hacker will not be able to decrypt it without knowing the encryption key. Anyone attempting to listen in will only be able to see what appears to be a scrambled mess.
Any modern wireless router comes from the factory with several encryption methods available. These typically include WEP, WPA, and WPA2. More expensive models may have a few other options as well. For security reasons, you should never use WEP encryption unless it is the only option.
The encryption is enabled and selected via the router configuration utility, which is typically a web interface. Refer to your owner’s manual on the specifics of your model. In general, you will likely want to select “WPA2 PSK+AES” as the encryption type, and choose a password that is at least 14 characters long.
2. Enable MAC Address Filtering
A MAC address is a unique hardware address assigned to network hardware, such as wireless interface cards, when they are built. Think of the MAC address like a finger print, allowing you identify specific hardware. Most modern routers can do what is known as MAC address filtering, allowing only devices you specifically list to connect wirelessly.
In order for this to work properly, you must enter the MAC address of the wireless card(s) you will allow to connect via the router configuration utility. Obtaining your specific MAC address differs depending on the operating system on the computer. It can typically be found on the network settings screens, but you will have to refer to help sources for your specific operating system for more in-depth information.
3. Disable SSID Broadcast
Your neighbors can not use what they do not know is there, right? The SSID is the identifying name of your network. These are typically set to some default value from the manufacture, but can be changed to whatever you wish. On the router configuration utility, there is usually an option to “Disable SSID Broadcast” or something similar. This prevents the router from even announcing its presence.
Following these three easily implemented steps will help ensure your wireless network runs as fast and as secure as possible.