How To Protect Your Wireless Network

First of all, you DID turn on encryption for your wireless network, didn’t you?  If you wireless network is unencrypted, then anyone driving by can connect to your network, and try to steal information from  your computers.  (This is called wardriving. And, there is a newer version where the bad guys can do the same thing with radio controlled airplanes.  At a DEF CON hacker conference, they even have a wardriving competition!  Ugh.  If you’re a security geek, you probably already attend a DEF CON or Black Hat conference.  I’ve never been to one, but I’m sure it would be interesting, sobering, and make me never want to get near a computer again.  That would be a problem for me, since I work as a computer database administrator.) The first thing you should know about wireless networks is that you must TURN ON the encryption.

The second thing you need to know about wireless networks is that the old encryption algorithms have already been broken, and you can download software  to figure out somebody else’s wireless network password (or even your own).  Here are some tips for securing your wireless network. If your wireless router does not support WPA2-AES, throw it away (or give it to someone that has interesting stuff on THEIR computers), and buy a new one that supports WPA2-AES.  Check out Consumer Search.  I recently bought a new Netgear WNDR3700, and this wireless router has a separate guest network from your private network; a nice-to-have optional feature.

Even if you have a wireless router that supports WPA2-AES, you still need to give it a good password.  Generate a long, complex password and use that for your wireless network.  I know it’s a hassle to type in an ugly, long password like that, but you only to type the password in once (for each computer you connect to your wireless network).

Here is another reason you should encrypt your wireless network: Google Street View.  Google your address in Google Maps, and you can click on a photograph of your street, and see your house.  (Hopefully, you weren’t wandering outside in your bathrobe to get the morning paper when the Google Street View car drove by and took your picture.)  Did you know that Google was wardrving at the same time they were taking your picture?  If you happened to have an unencrypted wireless network when the Google car drove by, Google connected to your network, and downloaded anything they could find.

What do you think of that?  I was appalled when I found out about it.  I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t comment on the legality of it, but I am human, and I have a certain expectations for ethical conducts, and in my opinion, Google crossed the line on this one.  Google did not advertise that they were doing this, probably because they realized that there would be a huge uproar if people found out.  Well, people did find out, and as a consequence, there is a huge uproar.  Hey Google: don’t be evil.  Hold yourself to a higher ethical standard, and assume that sneaky actions may someday be found out, and you will pay the consequences.

So, to summarize, here’s what you should do to protect your wireless network:

  1. Make sure your wireless router is newer, and supports the latest encryption protocols.  WPA2-AES is the best there is right now.
  2. TURN ON encryption.
  3. Use a STRONG, LONG, RANDOM password to access your wireless network.
  4. If you’re curious, here are more ideas for securing your wireless network.
  5.  If you are mad about Google crossing the ethical line with Google Street View wardriving, contact them, and let them know how you feel about it.


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