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Do you have a wireless network or are you thinking about installing one?

Wireless networking products are inexpensive, very convenient, and with them you can share computer files, printers, scanners, etc.  However, they are also full of security leaks!

Think about what type of information is stored on your computer or on others in your home network. E-mail and files, are quite obvious but what about financial software such as Microsoft Money or Quicken? Do you keep financial data in these programs? What about credit card information, tax returns that contain social security numbers or even text files with passwords listed? These are all personal things we want to keep private. Leaving your network open, can be a considerable temptation for a wireless hacker that will make you an easy target for identity theft.

Unfortunately, in order to make a wireless router work right out of the box, the manufacturer will preset it with no security restrictions. This situation allows for an open network and exposing your computer or computers for anyone’s viewing.

So, spending time configuring a wireless network to provide strong security is time well spent.

If you are thinking right now that you have nothing important on your network and that you have no need to secure your wireless network, I guarantee that you will reconsider your opinion after reading the next few paragraphs.


Consider the following:

In a "best" case scenario, all the intruder or hacker does is use your connection to get online without paying, maybe just to surf the web, maybe to download pirated music or software. This does not cause any harm to your network or computers but it can slow things down for the legitimate users of the network, by stealing your connection speed.

Not so bad? Now here’s the bad news!

A hacker could use and abuse your connection for malicious purposes such as hacking, or distributing illegal material. Since the hacker is a part of your private network, any traffic between him and the Internet will appear to be coming from your IP address/network. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns you one IP Address for your account and has no idea how many computers you have, who they belong to, or what they are used for. The wireless router takes care of assigning private addresses inside your home network so multiple computers can be connected to one external IP address. Therefore, information transferred appears to be coming from the same PC whether it’s you, a family member or a hacker. An ISP's Terms of Service usually contains a clause that allows them to reveal customer information to the authorities to assist with legitimate criminal investigations of suspected accounts. Once discovered, you will then be held responsible for any activities the connection is used for.  If criminal activity is discovered and investigated, it will be traced back to you. Nobody wants to be wrongly accused of and/or go to jail for distributing child pornography, hacking into a restricted company or government networks (just to mention a few examples). Particularly if the crime was really committed by a hacker coming from an innocent victim’s network. This should be reason enough to secure your wireless network as much as possible.

A wireless network is also a direct connection into the victim's private network - literally. Instead of intruding from the Internet Providers side, the intruder connects directly to the network on the private side of the router as if he/she were you or another family member. Most people assume that since they are behind a router their private network is safe, hence letting down their guard, sharing drives, and generally being careless. The intruder can completely take advantage of this by snooping around undisturbed and getting access to confidential data.

By now the danger should be completely clear!

Unsecured wireless networks are unacceptable due to the extremely high risks involved. Yet there are countless unsecured wireless networks out there. A mere drive around a residential neighborhood can reveal just how many of your neighbors’ connections are left wide open and insecure.

What is even scarier is that it does not take any skill to discover and gain unauthorized access to wireless networks. One does not have to be a programmer or network specialist. All it takes is a laptop with a wireless network card, and some software that can be easily downloaded for free from the Internet. Armed with these basic tools, anybody can drive around, detect open wireless networks, and connect to them.

Even with security in place, one still needs to be cautious as there are no guarantees against a skilled hacker breaking into your network.

Here are a couple of precautions you should also take:

1. If you are not using the wireless connection, turn the router off. You would want to take this precaution especially if you’re on vacation or away for a length of time. No one can access the router if it is not turned on.

2. Do not leave default username and password settings in the router. These items are commonly known or can be easily discovered.

Now isn’t it obvious why a wireless network has to be secured? Isn’t it time to check out your network?

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