You’ve probably read over and over again how public wi-fi is bad and potentially dangerous. That the person at the next table could be who you’re connecting to, and not an access point. Did you ever stop to think that your home wi-fi could be just as dangerous?
Have you ever needed to check the wi-fi settings on your phone and seen all those network names that weren’t yours? Some of the names make no sense but you can tell that a few of them belong to your neighbors?
Guess what? They’re sitting in their homes able to see your network as well. I sure hope your wi-fi network is secure.
Let’s talk about what you can do to secure your network so that your neighbors can’t access any of your data.
It all starts with your router. And if you have a first generation router still—which to me is unfathomable, but I’m sure there are some of you—you need to make some adjustments. Well, let me rephrase that. If you’ve never made any adjustments on it since its initial setup, you definitely need to make some adjustments, as security standards and protocols have changed.
Before we get too deeply into this, let me give you a tip. This is mostly for the people that I’ve lost now that I’ve mentioned they have to tinker. You’re heading out to buy a new router, aren’t you?
Here’s the tip. Make sure you have one of the router today. If you follow that link, you’ll find some listed. If you want to keep reading here, I’m going to get a bit deeper into why wi-fi networks aren’t secure and how to secure them. And in case the above link doesn’t give it away, one of the best methods of securing your w-fi is with a VPN. But more on that in a bit.
What Could Happen?
First, let’s talk about the ramifications having a network that isn’t locked down. Some are much worse than others, but all could cost you in the long run.
I have a fairly powerful router with pretty incredible range so I can get a fair distance from my house before I lose my connection. That means that anyone else within that same area can see my network as well. If I didn’t have my networked secured, they could piggyback on it and steal my bandwidth.
Let me explain that. Say they’re on their smartphone and they want to download or stream something big. But they don’t have unlimited data so they search for any open wi-fi networks in the area. And there’s yours. If you don’t have unlimited internet, they are costing you by using your internet bandwidth.
In the grand scheme of things, that’s not as bad as them hacking your network and stealing info, or using your email to send hate mail. Yes, it’s happened.
How to Fix it
Use a VPN. I mentioned a VPN (Virtual Private Network) above, and that’s an awesome solution. You should still follow the steps below regardless, but a VPN gives you a blanket of protection. For both your wired connection and your wi-fi network.
A VPN will provide you with a network to hide behind. You will make all internet connections using its IP address and it will encrypt all your data.
Create a Unique Password. I’m fairly sure last few routers I purchased didn’t ship with default passwords, but I think my first wi-fi router may have. And that’s bad. So if you have an older wi-fi router, access the router settings from your desktop or an app if there is one, and change the default password to something unique. Note that this might also be called a passphrase, so don’t be confused. My original Linksys used the word “admin” for both username and password.
Since there is a public list of all default username/password combinations for every router manufacturer, it’s not too hard for someone to find a weak router to break into. Don’t let it be yours.
Change Your SSID. This is the name that identifies your network. Remember I mentioned at the outset being able to see network names you knew belonged to your neighbors? That’s their SSIDs you see. Like your password, this can be changed in your router settings. Don’t use your name or anything that identifies your network with you.
Enable Network Encryption. Other than the VPN, this is probably the most crucial step. The oldest and least secure encryption method is WEP. It’s easy to break into, but for people that have a lot of older devices and hardware, it may still work. WPA2, which is the most secure encryption method to date only supports devices manufactured after 2006, so that might be problematic for some.
My advice? Buy all new devices? Is it really worth it, having a network that’s easily cracked?
Reduce Your Wireless Range. Remember I said I could still connect to my wi-fi from quite a distance from my house? I need to take my own advice. There’s no need for me to have coverage to that distance. But if I change my signal range that might also mean I’ll lose my connection in the far corner of the basement. Decisions, decisions.