Wireless security at home
Aug 20, 2008, 12:47 GMT
Washington - Setting up a wireless network at home is both easy and smart. A wireless network gives everyone in the house access to the Internet, and it can also be used to share files and peripherals, such as printers. But it also brings with it concerns that you probably didn't have before, including whether intruders can leech onto your Internet connection or even peer into your computers. They can - unless you take steps to make your wireless network secure.
Q: I have a wireless router. I would like to encrypt it in order to prevent the neighbors from 'piggy backing' on my Internet connection. Every time I try to change a setting in the router, though, I lose connection with the Internet myself from my Vista computer. Any help would be appreciated.
A: Your desire to encrypt your wireless connection is commendable. Recent studies have shown that the vast majority of home users with wireless routers do nothing at all to ensure that their home networks are encrypted. What this means, unfortunately, is that not only can neighbors or anyone within reach of the wireless signal use their Internet connection, but an unscrupulous technical person could even snoop into any computer in the household that's connected to the Internet through the router.
The good news is that all wireless routers today offer several types of security or encryption that prevents others from seeing into or 'piggy backing' on top of your network. The bad news is that almost none of the routers come with this encryption turned on by default. The most likely reason is that the manufacturers want to avoid the support calls that they would receive from users having trouble understanding or setting up the encryption.
Your first step in securing your network should be to change the password used to access the router itself. Most routers are controlled and configured via a setup program that itself is - or should be - password protected. Most routers, however, ship with no password set or the password set to something generic, such as 'password.' You'll want to change this to something stronger, since even if you set up encryption in your router, the encryption will do no good if some hacker can easily find his or her way into your router and reset or disable the encryption.
Once you've set up the password to your router's setup program, look for a section in the setup program called 'wireless security,' or something similar to that. There, you should find a drop-down list box that allows you to choose from among several types of encryption. You should see options such as WEP (wired equivalent privacy) and WPA (wi-fi protected access). WPA is stronger, so select that if you have a choice. You will then have to provide a passkey or password, depending upon the type of security you chose. Enter the passkey, and write it down. You will need this when you set up any computer that you would like to be able to access the Internet. Save your changes.
Also in the router's setup program, you should locate and note the SSID - short for 'service set identifier' - which is the public name of your network. You can change this to any name you wish - as in Sarah's Network. Whether you change the name or not, note what the SSID is. Save any changes. Your router may tell you that it needs to reboot. Allow it to.
Now go to any computer in the house that's equipped with a wireless networking card. Make sure that the drivers for the wireless card within the computer are installed properly. Re-install them if you're not sure. A setup program or taskbar icon should be available that allows you to access your wireless card's settings. Open that, and with the SSID and your passkey in hand, instruct your wireless card to search for available networks. You should see your wireless network's SSID listed. Select that, and you should then be prompted for the passkey that will give you access to the network. Be sure you type the passkey exactly as you did in the router's setup program.
If you're successful, you will have access to your network, and you can rest assured that encryption is enabled and working. If you're not successful, retrace these steps. As a last resort, you should call the manufacturer of your router. Most router manufacturers have people on call 24/7 for support issues, and it's always possible that a hardware issue could cause problems that cannot be diagnosed from home.
Q: My wireless router has a firewall built in. Does that mean I don't need to use the firewall in Windows Vista?
A: No. These two firewalls constitute different levels of security, and the presence of one does not negate the need for the other. The firewall in the router, by the way, is what's known as hardware-based, while the one that comes with Windows Vista is called host-based. The firewall that is built in to your wireless router is designed to protect you from threats from the outside. Beyond protecting you from those threats, it has no visibility into your actual computers and cannot protect you from threats that are either already within your in-home network or manage to sneak through the hardware-based router.
So it's a good idea to employ both the firewall in the router and the one that comes with Windows Vista. The two will not conflict with one another. What you do want to avoid, however, is having two firewalls installed on your Windows PC. That's almost guaranteed to cause problems. So either use the one that came with Vista or another, third-party firewall, but be sure to disable the Windows firewall before setting up another one.
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