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How Secure is your Wireless Network?

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So you have decided to clean up your computer desk, or you're at least thinking about getting rid of all those wires. Isn't that new wireless network great? No more wires running from room to room so everyone can share the DSL or files. Did you think about how secure your wireless network security is? Do you know how easy it is for your neighbors to see your files? Have you thought about how easy it is for you to see their files? I am not talking about a co-worker, I'm talking about someone down the street from you, the next block over, or even an office worker in a different building from a different company across the street.

Is Wi-Fi secure? (also known as wireless fidelity, wireless networking, 802.11 networking) After all, a Wi-Fi network is designed to transmit only a few of hundred feet. Knowingly, I would not buy anything from a company that uses a wireless network; they would never get a credit card from me.

As you read on you will see the vulnerabilities of Wi-Fi networking. Remember, we are not only talking about securing your Internet connection, we are also talking about your local network security.

Did you know that when you setup your Wi-Fi router you can setup a Wep Key? Your wireless router probably came set with a standard Wep Key or none at all and everyone on your block is probably using the same Key. After all, who reads instructions or wants to break something that is already working. Your router probably has a few different Wep Keys available or you can assign one, but you did not know that.

Now your going to ask me what is a Wep Key? It is a digital code that transfers data on your network and stands for Wired Equivalent Protocol. A Wep Key is your wireless network security, normally a 40 bit or 64 bit encryption of some password. It actually is a hexadecimal password that allows one wireless connection to speak to another. Anyone with the same Wep Key can access your router and computer. By the way, a new router should have at least one or more other protocols available; and most people use the WEP. Now, before you go looking up information on changing the Wep Key in your new router's owner manual, read on.

Since you may not have been aware of a Wep Key, neither was your neighbor. Your router probably has 5 or 6 different Wep Keys to choose from, but so does your neighbor. If your neighbor has the same router, he or she will have access to all the same Wep Keys. There is an alternative solution to this, you can create your own Key with a Wep Key generator, or just set a good strong password. These tools are available on the Internet. Do a search for Wep Key and you'll find one. You can then create your own phrase to encrypt, do not use your name or street address, do not use a single dictionary word or a common phrase.

I have run across, routers that acept 4 or 5 Keys, and if someone setup the router with just one Key, leaving the others blank, the connection was available to the public. I think this was a bug in the router, or the manufacture did not consider this.

Now that you have created a custom Wep Key and assuming that your router will accept a custom Key, the only people you need to worry about now are real hackers. Do you know what a Wi-Fi detector is? It is a detector that can locate any wireless network connection. But how many hackers are cruising your neighborhood looking for a wireless connection to tap into? You would be surprised!

Hackers need an Internet connection to send Spam, use stolen credit cards, and access sensitive bank information stored on your computer. Once on your wireless Internet connection, nothing can be tracked back to him, after all he is using your IP address (a unique number assigned to your Internet connection). He has the same control over your computer as anyone else on your network and since he is a hacker, he probably has more control than you do.

Don't feel overly secure just because you created a custom Wep Key. A simple hacker's program can break your 40 bit encryption Key in less than a few hours. There is no one monitoring the hacker. It is not like someone trying to break into your computer over the Internet; while you have a firewall monitoring your connection from your computer. Your router is connected to the Internet ahead of your computer. The hacker can use a brute force attack, sending 10's of thousands of Wep Keys every second to your wireless router to see which ones respond. I found an interesting article about how the Key is cracked. A 500 MHz PIII CPU can generate 60,000 guesses per second for a 64 bit encryption key.

If you already have a Wi-Fi router, there are some precautions you can take to protect your information from outsiders. Doing all of the following will not guarantee total security from a professional hacker, but it will surely eliminate your neighbors from getting into your computer.

  • Create a custom Wep Key using none dictionary words, like "AF?cx32*"

  • Turn off the DHCP server in the router, and assign a static IP address to each computer on your network, use non-routable addresses , like 192.168.x.x, 10.x.x.x, or 172.x.x.x

  • Use a firewall on each machine allowing only the IP addresses you have assigned to your computers to access your computers.

  • If you have Windows 9x or ME, password protect each shared drive. Windows XP, 2000, 2003 users should convert their FAT32 drives to NTFS and setup users for each shared folder or drive. If you want to convert an existing FAT32 drive to NTFS open a command window and type: Convert d: /FS:NTFS and press enter, changing the "d" to the drive letter you want to convert. When you reboot, the drive letter that you entered will be converted to NTFS without losing any files. You cannot convert back from NTFS to FAT32 later.

  • Create a file containing all your passwords, preferably an encrypted file. Then use a copy and paste when you need to enter your passwords.

  • Encrypt all files that contain sensitive information.

  • Block all traffic to your computer whenever possible.


Update

Since this newsletter has been posted, I find at least a dozen hits a day in the Web Sites log from search engines where people are looking for hacks and key generators for wireless networks. Here are just a few of the searches done:

wireless encryption key hacker
hack wep wireless wifi password
wi fi detector
wireless connection looking at neighbors files

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