Securing Your Home Wireless Network

While for many of us our primary use of computers and networks is limited to our campus work or studies, more and more of us are also setting up home networks so that we can enjoy the benefits of hooking up our computers, game consoles, and even televisions to the Internet from home. Home wireless network device manufactures usually make these devices as easy to use as possible, which can (and often does) equate to also being relatively unsecure as well.

But as long as you can get connected to the Internet, why should you care about the security of your home network? Securing your home wireless network is important because if you don’t, your neighbors can use your Internet connection for whatever they want, including streaming videos and downloading inappropriate or illegal content. Their use of your network could result in harm to your systems ranging from simply slower network performance to increased ISP charges, breaking into your computers, and spying on your networking activities. Even worse, hackers can use your internet connection to upload illegal materials, and the FBI will come knocking at your door.

Tips for Keeping You Home Network Secured

So what should you do to keep these things from happening to you? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Implement Security Settings on the Wireless Network: First, start by changing the default administrative password on the wireless device (default passwords are widely known by hackers). The wireless network should then be protected using Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) instead of WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). Using current technology, WEP encryption can be broken in minutes (if not seconds) by an attacker, which afterwards allows the attacker to view all traffic passed on the wireless network. It is important to note that older client systems and access points may not support WPA2 and will require a software or hardware upgrade. When researching for suitable replacement devices, ensure that the device is WPA2-Personal certified. Finally, disable the remote administration feature of your wireless device unless you absolutely need to manage it away from home.
  • Migrate to a Modern OS and Hardware Platform: Both Windows 7 and Macintosh OS X operating systems provide substantial security enhancements over earlier operating system versions. Many of these security features are enabled by default, automatically helping to prevent many common attacks. Additionally, ensure that the OS automatic update feature is enabled to help keep your system protected from newly-discovered security holes.
  • Limit Use of Administrator Accounts: The first account that is typically created when configuring a new computer for the first time is the local administrator account. Using such an account for day-to-day activities makes it much easier for malware to gain control of your system. A non-privileged “user” account should be created and used for the bulk of activities conducted on the computer including web browsing, email access, and document creation/editing. The privileged administrator account should only be used to install updates or software, and reconfigure the host as needed.
  • Enable Firewalls: In its simplest form, a firewall is a system that controls access across the network. In the context of home networks, a firewall typically takes one of two forms: a software firewall – specialized software running on an individual computer, or a hardware firewall – a dedicated device designed to protect one or more computers.Both types of firewalls allow the user to define access policies for inbound connections to the computers they are protecting. Most firewalls intended for home use come with pre-configured security policies from which the user chooses, and some allow the user to customize these policies for their specific needs. Intruders are constantly scanning home user systems for known vulnerabilities. Network firewalls (whether software or hardware-based) can provide some degree of protection against these attacks.

Want to Know More?

If you’re interested in finding out more about ways to keep your home network secure or how to stay safe on public wireless networks, have a look at these additional online resources: