The Dangers Posed By The Growing Use Of Home Wireless Routers

15 October 2010

In recent years, home internet access has become ubiquitous and the majority of users now connect ‘wirelessly’ via a central ‘router’. This method has become extremely convenient for families with multiple computers, games consoles and other devices capable of connecting to the internet, but it has also left many homes open to invasion from nearby hackers who attempt to access the network without authorisation.

The majority of wireless routers, particularly those from mainstream providers such as Virgin and BT, come with a variety of security measures already set up. However, computer forensics experts have long been warning that each of these requires some attention if they are to stand successfully in the way of malicious snoopers.

First, access to your network will generally require each computer user to enter a ‘passkey’. While this offers some degree of security, the key is often printed on the router, so if you place it near a window, there is a strong chance that the key could be spotted and used. As such, it is wise to change the passkey as soon as you receive the router and ideally renew it every two to three months. As with any password, you should aim to choose something that is difficult to guess.

If a hacker does gain access to your network, their first port of call will usually be the router itself where they can change other security. Again, most routers come with a default username of ‘Admin’ and a password that is printed on the router and box, so your first action should be to change both, again aiming for details that are difficult to guess.

Next, you should look to change the ‘IP address’ of your router. The IP address is the numerical address printed on the back of the router, which you will have used to access its control panel. Changing the IP address makes it harder for snoopers to find your router, so it is again worth doing every two to three months.

Ideally, your next step should be to take the additional precaution of only allowing ‘known’ computers to access your network. Every computer or electronic device with networking capabilities has a unique identifier known as a ‘physical address’. On Windows, you can display your computer’s physical address by clicking ‘start’, ‘run’ and then typing ‘cmd’ [enter] ‘ipconfig /all’ [enter].

Once you have this information for each machine, you can access your router’s filter options and limit access permissions to those machines only. It is worth noting, however, that other machines could still access the network – not taking all other security measures into account – by changing their own physical address to match one of those already permitted.

Finally, precautions should be taken to secure the information on each machine accessing the network. All machines should have a firewall in place to prevent unauthorised access to files, and in most cases, it will be appropriate to turn off all file sharing so that other machines on the network cannot explore each other’s contents. However, if one machine is being used as an ‘entertainment hub’, making films and other content available to view on other devices, file sharing must be turned on that particular machine. In such cases, file sharing should be limited to only those directories containing entertainment content, while directories containing sensitive information should remain private.

With home working, internet shopping and online banking becoming just three activities that are increasingly carried out via home internet connections, properly securing your network has never been more essential.

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