Security For Computer Users

Going Wireless

This is a longer subject so we have broken it into two parts, what and how to.

More Canadians are setting up wireless networks to connect computers in different parts of their homes. All it takes is a wireless router plugged into the internet and network adapters for each machine. Instead of long cables, radio signals are used to connect the computers allowing them to share that single high-speed internet connection. Wireless networks are easy to set up and relatively inexpensive but with convenience comes security issues.

Going wireless means your internet connection is broadcasting outside your home. These high-frequency networks have a range of about 30 metres or more essentially traveling further than the walls of your house.

Very few home users realize that they have to secure their networks: they just plug it in, it works and that's all they care about … but that's like having a live internet connection right outside their house for anyone to use.

Without any security, anyone with a wireless-enabled laptop or handheld computer can use your network and therefore your internet connection. They can get free internet access, steal information stored in your computers, or use your system to attack something else.

This security weakness has led "wardriving", which involves driving around with a wireless-enabled device and finding wireless networks. There are those who consider it a hobby; they do it out of curiosity and to call attention to the extent of the security problem and then there are those who use wardriving for criminal intent.

There are no definitive numbers on how many homeowners' wireless networks are compromised every year, but it's happening.

Identifying the networks isn't illegal, but accessing them is. In 2003, a Toronto man was charged after police found him driving half-naked, using a wireless internet connection from a house to download child porn. In that case he was caught however, if he hadn't been caught and there was an ongoing investigation… police would be knocking at your door for accessing child porn sites.

Estimates range from 60 to 70 per cent of home user wireless networks are completely open with no security measures in place what so ever. About 40 per cent are left in the default configuration, pretty much the way it comes out of the box. If a hacker can identify what hardware is being used on the home user's network he can easily find out the factory settings that came with the device. If a user hasn't changed any of the settings then that network is wide open to the hacker.

The bottom line is that the end user is responsible for their internet connection. If someone else uses it to do something illegal, the onus is on you to prove that it wasn't you. And how do you do that if there's no way to identify who was in your network at any given time?

Final Words

Wireless networking holds a lot of benefit for those that want to join up computers, printers, speakers and any one of a number of other devices but again, the responsibility for securing the network is on you.

Again, protecting yourself and your computer takes an effort to be safe.

Securing your Wireless Network

Tomorrow we shall give you the how-to for securing your network

As always, should you have any questions about your computer, do not hesitate in picking up the phone or writing... better to contact me and be sure.

Tom @ Tata Computers