Yes, the guy who warns you about Internet scams, the dangers of e-mail and the perils of spyware failed to protect his own network. I admit it. Can I go now?
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
T e c h n o f i l e
Wireless security: Do as I say, not as I do
Feb. 4, 2007
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard
My friend Bob and I were showing off our family photos when we both realized something was different.
We were lounging in the backyard of his suburban home one summer afternoon, looking through pictures of the kids on our laptops, when we noticed something we hadn't seen before. A new network showed up on our wireless menus -- one that we could both log onto just by double clicking the name.
Whose network was it? Which neighbor was letting us step through his virtual walls?
Sheepishly, we backed away from this virtual trespassing and logged back onto Bob's own network. Then the realization hit us: This neighbor's network, wherever it was, was wide open to anyone who wanted to cruise right in because it was unsecured. It was, in the jargon of network experts, an "open" network.
Just like Bob's.
Yes, the guy who warns you about Internet scams, the dangers of e-mail and the perils of spyware failed to protect his own network. I admit it. Can I go now?We headed upstairs to check the configuration of Bob's wireless router. When Bob had bought his laptop, he'd purchased the wireless router as part of the deal, and I had set up his router while he was getting his laptop up and running. In the enthusiasm of the moment -- that's my excuse as I look back on it now -- I'd never even thought of turning on any of the security measures.
As a result, Bob had been inviting anyone with a wireless laptop to connect to his network. It's almost as if Bob had hung a sign out of his upstairs window with the words "FREE INTERNET ACCESS! NO PASSWORD NECESSARY!"
In fact, as we both know now, Bob didn't need to hang out a sign; he was advertising his free Internet connection just fine without one. A continuously broadcast radio signal trumpeted the availability of his wireless network to everyone within a few hundred feet of his home.
As you can imagine, the rest of the story should go something like this: Bob and I looked at the menu of choices in his router configuration software, then turned on the basic security function. Then we relaxed after doing this good deed.
But there is no rest for the thick-headed. After we fixed his router, I had one other thing to do. I had to fix mine. So, later that day, after the barbecue and the Ben & Jerry's, I slunk home to turn on the security features in my router, too.
(Yes, the guy who warns you about Internet scams, the dangers of e-mail and the perils of spyware failed to protect his own network. I admit it. Can I go now?)
Since that fateful day, Bob's wireless router -- and, um, mine, too -- have been protected against unauthorized evesdropping and surreptitious connections. How did we do it? It was easy.
First, we ignored all the advice we've read about making a home wireless network secure against hackers. We simply wanted to keep out the drive-by snoopers and neighborhood kids.
So, in the router's configuration, we just turned on wireless encryption, called WEP. We chose 128-bit encryption -- if you have an older router, you might have to choose 64-bit encryption -- and we each picked a password nobody else would ever guess.
That's all. Nothing fancier. We know each other's passwords, which gives us a kind of insurance against forgetting our own, and we've set up our laptops so they automatically connect to each network when they're close by.
But what if we wanted even tighter security, as you might want if you have a wireless network in your office? We'll take a look at security options in a future column.