So you have joined the revolution and set up a wireless network in your office. Congratulations! But along with the freedom that wireless brings comes responsibility — protecting your wireless network against intrusion. Wireless networks are great because they let you connect from anywhere in your office. But that same principle is what makes them vulnerable; hackers do not need to be physically connected (wired) to your network to access it.
Unsecured wireless LANs are easy targets for hackers, both over the Internet and via “wardriving.” Wardrivers are hackers armed with laptops and scanner programs who drive around until they detect an unsecured wireless Ethernet connection. They can then log on and do most anything an authorized user could do, just as if they were sitting at the computer. They can, quite literally, snatch your information out of thin air. Think it couldn’t happen to your business? Think again.
Snatching information is known as “packet sniffing,” and can be used to devastating effect over wireless connections. If your wireless network is unsecured, determined hackers could have access to everything you send and receive over your network. Everything.
Sobering stuff, to be sure. To guarantee that you don’t end up a victim, take these steps:
1. Change the default settings on your router. Routers come with usernames, passwords, and other information installed by the manufacturer. As soon as you install your router, change these values. If you don’t, you may as well ask to be hacked.
2. Use the security measures your wireless devices already have. Wireless encryption protocol, or WEP, is an older security standard, and can be breached by determined hackers. Wifi protected access, or WPA, is newer and much stronger. No matter which encryption standard your devices have, use it. If your system has WPA and offers shared key encryption, enable it.
3. Install firewalls. Every computer connected to the Internet should be protected by a firewall, and that goes double — or triple — for computers on wireless networks. You can either install software firewalls on each computer, or install a hardware firewall on your entire network.
New wireless equipment and standards are being developed all the time, and each generation boasts improved speed and security features. But hackers are nothing if not resourceful, and wireless networks will always be a target. Wardriving, packet sniffing, and other related activities are crimes of opportunity. Your network does not need to be impenetrable; some security is better than none. Following these steps may be just enough for the hacker to keep driving in search of easier prey.