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76. Keep security in mind when installing network

By Mark Alberstat

Home networks used to be a thing of science fiction, along with flying cars and Rosie, the Jetson's maid.

Although Rosie may not be feeding your dog, Astro, computer networking in the home is an everyday possibility now. A growing number of those networks are wireless, taking advantage of the sharp drop in cost of wireless connectivity equipment, commonly called Wi-Fi. These routers and cards are relatively plug-and-play right out of the box, making establishing your network quick and easy. The problem arises over security features that are not turned on as factory defaults and are often never changed by the owner. These security holes can leave your network open to other people hopping onto your wireless network and using the Internet over your subscription. Hackers can also enter your network, and computers, through open networks so securing that new wireless system is as necessary as buying the equipment in the first place.

The first security door to close is the router password. To configure your router, most manufacturers have a web page interface with a variety of tools. These tools are protected so that only the owner can access them but most of these standard, out-of-the-box passwords are well known to hackers. Changing this first line of security is easy to do and only takes a few seconds.

Encryption is another key to security. This feature, available on all wi-fi equipment, encrypts the information going from one point to another on your network and un-encrypts it for the user when it reaches its destination. If you have a variety of different pieces of wi-fi equipment, you must find the lowest common encryption level and use that. However, as in all security issues, the higher the level of encryption, the better.

Another good, but far from foolproof, security setting is the MAC address filtering. This feature tells your router what pieces of wi-fi equipment are allowed to access your network by a unique identifier, or MAC Address, sometimes known as a physical address. To configure this option, find the MAC address of each computer on the network and place that address on the list that the router allows. Any other number is denied access. The problem with this level of security is that a good hacker can fake MAC addresses. While you are in the router's menu for this, you might want to count up the number of devices on your network and see if it corresponds with the number you think should be there. If there are more, a neighbour could already be using your network.

Each device on your network has an IP Address. This is a number that is assigned to the device and is used when the equipment talks back and forth. Most home networks use DHCP to assign these numbers. The D in that acronym stands for Dynamic and means the number changes frequently. It is safer and more secure to use static IP numbers for each device, usually within a range, and your router will know that range. With a DHCP network, hackers have an easier time of finding an acceptable IP Address.

If you have the network name, or SSID, being broadcast, turn it off. This feature is designed for businesses where clients with laptops can come and go. In a home network, this feature is not needed and adds a level of insecurity that is easily turned off with no harm to your connectivity.

With these few security issues implemented, your home network's safety will take a big leap to being hacker proof or shared by your neighbours.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 22 January 2006


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