Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Wireless Networks, the Media, and Paranoia

Being paranoid is a good thing. A friend of mine keeps repeating a quote from some movie that goes something like "it isn't about whether you are paranoid or not, its about how paranoid are you". Clearly I am not expert at quotes, but I think the message is clear.

So what is all the noise about wireless networks and lack of safety with regards to your privacy. To a large extent the issue is true. Specially if you do not take some basic steps twoards securing your personal data and home network.

Just yesterday I read yet another artcile on this subject on CNN Money.

Before that I read

What bothers me is the fact that they talk about this issue without providing what I feel is a solution. So here is my lame attempt at providing some basic guidelines.

  1. Buy a wireless router or wireless access point that supports 802.11g. So now you may ask what is a router, what is an access point and what on earth is 802.11g? Use Google and look it up :-)
  2. Make sure that the router/Access Point supports 128-bit WEP encryption, and MAC filtering.
  • 128-bit WEP encryption will encrpyt all your data travelling through the air. Even if someone picks it up, they cannot read the contents.
  • Every network card (the card on your computer that connect you to your network wireless or wired) has a unique identity called the MAC address. MAC filtering lets you configure your router/Access Point such that only your card can connect to your network. So enter teh MAC address of each card that you have in your house. This way no neighbor can ever connect to your wireless network.

In addition, you can tell your wirelss router/Access point not to broadcast its existence. So now no one even knows you have a wireless network. Well, maybe there are some devices that will let a pro hacker find out, but not much they can do if you have MAC filtering setup and if you changed the default password to your router.

Also, each wireless router/access point comes with a default admin password and SSID. Please, please, please change these. Most intrusions occur because people buy this equipment and do not take the time to change this default information. So then comes a hacker uses your default password, logs onto your router, changes the password, i.e., removing your ability to control your own network. And now they can snoop around and do anything else they want. But you can prevent it all by taking these very simple steps.

An example of such a device is the Linksys WAP54G Wireless Access Point. I am by no means endorsing Linksys products. This is merely an example. It has MAC filtering, supports 802.11g, provides WPA (not so good), and WEP (very good encryption).

I guess the point I am trying to make is that by spending $40, reading a little, and taking about 20 minutes to configure your router/wireless access point, you can make your wireless network safe.

So by all means be paranoid, but not because the media tells you to be so.


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