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5 Tips for Securing Your Wireless Network

It's time for a wireless tune-up

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5 Tips for Securing Your Wireless Network
Photo: Nicholas Eveleigh / Getty

How secure is your wireless network? Is it tough enough to handle a hacker attack, or is it wide-open with no encryption or password, allowing anyone and everyone to get a free ride while you pay the bill? Let's look at some steps you can take to lock down your wireless network.

1. Turn on WPA2 Encryption on Your Wireless Router

If you set up your Wi-Fi network several years ago and haven’t changed any settings since then, chances are, you might be using the outdated Wireless Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption which is easily hackable by even the most novice hacker. Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) is the current standard and is much more hacker-resistant.

Depending on how old your wireless router is, you may need to upgrade its firmware to add WPA2 support. If you can't upgrade your router's firmware to add support for WPA2 then you should consider investing in a new wireless router that supports WPA2 encryption.

2. Don't Use a Common Wireless Network Name (SSID)

There is a list that hackers like to refer to that contains the Top 1000 most common SSIDs (wireless network names). If your SSID is on this list, hackers have likely already created a custom Rainbow Table (password hash table) that can be used to crack your network's password (unless you're using a really long network password). Even some implementations of WPA2 may be vulnerable to this type of attack. Check to make sure your network’s name is not on the list. Make your network name as random as possible and avoid using dictionary words.

3. Create a Really Long Wireless Network Password (Pre Shared Key)

In conjunction with creating a strong network name that isn't on the list of the most common SSIDs, you should choose a strong password for your pre shared key. A shorter length password is more likely to be cracked than a longer one. Longer passwords are better because the Rainbow Tables that are used to crack passwords aren't practical after you exceed a certain length of password due to storage limitations.

Consider setting your wireless network's password to a length of 16 or more characters. You have plenty of room to get creative with your Pre Shared Key as the maximum password length for WPA2-PSK is 64 characters. It may seem like a royal pain to type in a super long password, but since most Wi-Fi devices cache this password, you’ll only have to endure this annoyance once per device, which is a small price to pay for the added security it provides.

4. Enable and Test Your Wireless Router's Firewall

Most wireless routers have a built-in firewall that can be used to help keep hackers out of your network. You should consider enabling and configuring the built-in firewall (see your router manufacturer's support site for details). You may also want to enable the firewall's "Stealth Mode" feature to help reduce your network's visibility as a potential target. Once you've enabled your firewall you should periodically test it to ensure that it is doing it's job. Check out our article on How to Test Your Firewall for more information.

5. Turn Off The "Admin Via Wireless" Feature on Your Wireless Router

You can help prevent hackers from taking control of the administrative features of your wireless router by turning off the "admin via wireless" configuration setting. Disabling “Admin Via Wireless” ensures that only someone who is connected to your router via an Ethernet cable can access the administrative functions of your wireless router. This helps prevent them from trying to turn off other security features such as wireless encryption and your firewall.

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