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How To Hide Your Wireless Network From Your Internet-Leeching Neighbors

You've been so generous without even knowing it

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How To Hide Your Wireless Network From Your Internet-Leeching Neighbors
Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis

High-speed broadband connections don't just grow on trees. We all like getting our money's worth when it comes to our Internet connection so we often extend its reach by adding a wireless router or a wireless access point. Once we start broadcasting wireless access, our signal can potentially be picked up outside of our home by our neighbors. If we haven't secured our connection then they might be able to connect and use our Internet access.

Enter: The Wireless Internet Leech. These people live right around you or might just be passing thru so they can do a "drive-by-leeching". They have no problem connecting to your wireless network and killing your bandwidth while you pay the bill. They don't think twice about connecting to any open wireless access point they happen to find.

There are websites devoted to finding open wireless access points. Some leeches even spray graffiti or use chalk near an open wireless access point to mark or Warchalk the site so others will know where they can get free wireless access. Warchalkers use codes and symbols to indicate the SSID name, bandwidth available, encryption used, etc.

How do you prevent your neighbors and others from leeching off of your wireless internet connection?

1. Turn on WPA2 encryption on your wireless router

If you haven't already done so, consult your wireless router's manual and enable WPA2 encryption on your wireless router. You may already have encryption turned on, but you may be using the outdated and vulnerable WEP encryption. WEP is easily hacked by even the most novice hacker in less than a minute or two by using free tools found on the Internet. Turn on WPA2 encryption and set a strong password for your network.

2. Change your wireless network's name (SSID)

Your SSID is the name that you give your wireless network. You should always change this name from its manufacturer set default which is usually the brand name of the router (i.e. Linksys, Netgear, D-link, etc). Changing the name helps to prevent hackers and leeches from finding specific vulnerabilities associated with your brand of router. If hackers know the brand name, then they could find an exploit to use against it (if one exists). The brand name also helps them determine what the default admin password for the router might be (if you haven't changed it).

Make the SSID something random and try to make it as long as you are comfortable with. The longer the SSID the better as it helps prevent hackers from using Rainbow Table-based attacks to try and crack your wireless encryption.

3. Turn off the "allow admin via wireless" feature of your wireless router

As an extra precaution against hackers, turn off the "allow admin via wireless" feature on your router. This will help to prevent a wireless hacker from gaining control of your wireless router. Turning this feature off tells your router to only permit router administration from a computer that is directly connected via an Ethernet cable. This means that they would pretty much have to be in your house in order to access the admin console of your router.

Your neighbors will likely be a little mad at you for turning off their free Internet gravy train. They may sneer at you and let their dog use the bathroom in your yard from now on. At least now that they are no longer getting a free ride, maybe you will have enough bandwidth to stream an HD movie without it stuttering and getting all "blocky" for a change.

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