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How to Secure Your HomePlug Powerline Network

Only you have the power to secure your powerline network

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How to Secure Your HomePlug Powerline Network
Photo: Lauren Burke / Getty

There used to be two basic options for setting up a network in your home. You could either string Ethernet cables all over the place or you could invest in a wireless access point or wireless router and go wireless. Over the last few years a third option has emerged and started to catch on.

Enter: the HomePlug Powerline network. Powerline networks use your home's electrical wiring to carry network traffic at speeds that rival traditional wired network technologies. Powerline networks are super simple to implement thanks to the HomePlug Powerline Alliance who has done their best to make Powerline network products interoperable and easy for consumers to install.

The basic Powerline network consists of at least two Powerline network devices which look like little bricks that plug into your home's power outlets. Each Powerline network adapter has an Ethernet port to connect network devices to.

Say you have a computer in your basement and your Internet router is on the third floor of your house. Instead of running a network cable up to the third floor, all you would need to do is take a Powerline network adapter, plug it in near your computer in the basement, connect the cord to your computer and to the powerline adapter, and follow the same process with another Powerline adapter, plugging it into your router and a power outlet near you router. Boom. You're done!

If you want to add more devices in other rooms to the network, you just need to buy more Powerline network adapters. Some versions of the homeplug standard support of to 64 adapters. I don't think I even have half that many power outlets in my home.

So what's the catch? Well, Powerline networks get a little trickier when you move out of the realm of the single family home. This is where the security issues begin.

The HomePlug standard has security features such as encryption built in but because their main goals seem to be ease of use and interoperability, most HomePlug devices have the same network name "HomePlugAV" or something similar. This makes it easy for people to 'plug and play' devices from different companies who are part of the same HomePlug standard. Since they have the same network name they will all talk to each other without any user intervention.

The main issue with all Powerline network devices having the same out-of-the-box default network name is when you live in an apartment, dorm, or other situation where the electrical wiring is shared. If two or more different apartments start using Powerline networking products with the same network name then they are essentially sharing their network with each other which could lead to all manner of security and privacy issues.

How do you implement the security features of HomePlug Powerline Networks to create a more private network?

Change your Powerline network name

Most HomePlug Powerline network devices have a 'group' or 'security' button that will allow you to change your network's name. Usually this involves holding the security button down for s specified period of time to clear the default name and generate a new random network name.

Once the new network name is established, all the other powerline network devices must be given the new name so they can communicate with each other. Again, this is done by pressing the security button on one of the Powerline network devices for a certain number of seconds and then going to the other Powerline network devices and pressing their security button while the unit with the new network name is in 'broadcast new network name' mode.

Even though the HomePlug Standard is used by several manufacturers such as DLink, Netgear, Cisco, and others, the time you hold down the security button to accomplish creating and joining a network may be slightly different depending on the manufacturer of the HomePlug network devices you are using. Check your specific Powerline network device maker's website for details on how to create and join a network.

Use Powerline HomePlug scanning / configuration software to detect rogue devices

Some HomePlug Powerline network device makers have a software program that can detect what devices are present on your network and can configure them as well (provided you have the device passwords that are printed on each device).

If you only have two powerline network devices in your home and the software detects more than two, then you know that your network is mixing with a neighbors and that you should create your own private network by following the instructions above.

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