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Keeping Your Wireless Network Safe

Friday, December 21st, 2007 by | Filed Under: Security Help, System Tune-Up Help
 
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Q:
I just set up a wireless network in my home and while I love it, I’m still a little concerned about others being able to use my signal or even hack into my computer. I was told that hiding my SSID will take care of the problem, but I’m not sold on that idea. I’m not even sure what an SSID is or how to hide it. Can you please help me? Thanks!

A:
First of all, I want to welcome you to the world of wireless! I’ve been using a wireless connection in my home for a few years now and I absolutely love it. I’m sure you will too! And it’s very impressive that you’re already concerned about your safety when it comes to using your wireless network. A lot of people don’t start worrying about that until it’s too late, so it’s great that you’re already so far ahead of the game. I think your question will help a lot of other readers out there who are using wireless networks as well. I just love that!

As we all know, when you use a wireless router, there’s always a chance that other computers will be able to pick up your signal and use it, without you ever knowing a thing about it. Even more than that, there’s always the risk of your computer being hacked into as well. So, what can you do to keep yourself safe when using your wireless connection? Well, the person who asked today’s question mentioned hiding their SSID and while that helps, it’s not always the best solution. Let’s take a look at our options!

To begin, wireless routers are set up to send out a beacon called the Service Set IDentifier (SSID), which is what helps your wireless devices (laptop, etc.) connect to the Internet. The main purpose of the SSID is to broadcast wireless signals and invite available devices within range to connect to them. Now, if a device doesn’t know a network’s SSID, it will not be able to connect. So, if you change your SSID settings, only the people who know the SSID will be able to connect to your wireless network. That can help keep some of the “outsiders” away.

Now, while hiding your SSID keeps casual users at bay, you could still have trouble with hackers. Unfortunately, a hacker who is determined enough to get into your network will find a way. If they have the right kind of software, they will be able to easily gain access to your computer. Plus, changing your SSID can result in a slower performance and it could take you longer to connect to the Internet. Who wants that?! Luckily, there are a few other things you can do to keep your wireless network as secure as possible. Let’s check them out!

For starters, you can change your router’s login and password to be different from the default settings. If you’re still using the login and password that came with your router, anyone could connect to it, change your settings and even lock you out. You should also change your SSID to something a little more unique. Most routers come with a name of “default,” which is very easy for hackers to figure out. You should change it to something a little more meaningful to yourself. Lastly, you should turn on your encryption. If you do that, your router will not give access to any wireless devices unless they can provide the password you specify. It will also encrypt any communication between your computer and your router so that no one will be able to see what goes on. Note: If your router supports WPA encryption, you should use that over WEP, which is an older version.

Doing the three things I discussed above are your best bets for secure wireless networking, but if you still want to hide your SSID, you can do so by following the directions in your user manual. Every router is different, so your manual should give you detailed directions on how to get the job done. If that doesn’t work, you can always contact your ISP for help as well. Either way, it’s very important to keep your wireless network as safe as possible. Hopefully one of the above suggestions is just what you’ve been looking for. Test them out today!

~ Erin

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