Gaining access to the Internet has never been easier with the use of wireless routers. Any modern device that has Internet capabilities can be connected to a wireless network.
This can be at home, in the office, a library, college campus, at an airport, a cafe, hospital, and many other places. Wi-Fi was first introduced in 1997 and is now a daily part of lives.
Wi-Fi is incredibly beneficial. However, anything that involves an Internet connection, wireless access points, and network security also has its risks. Just like computers, Wi-Fi networks are prone to being hacked.
No one wants their data compromised, so it is important to be proactive and take the necessary steps to effectively secure your Internet connection.
What Is Wi-Fi Technology and How Does It Work?
Wi-Fi is commonly thought to be an acronym for wireless fidelity. In reality, the term Wi-Fi has no actual meaning and is actually a play on word of Hi-Fi (high fidelity). Wi-Fi works by utilizing radio frequencies to direct signals between devices.
This is not the same frequency a car radio would use. Radios use frequencies in ranges called kilohertz and megahertz. Wi-Fi uses the range called gigahertz. When a Wi-Fi router is connected via an ethernet cable, a computer’s wireless adapter will translate data and turn it into a radio signal.
The radio signal will then be transmitted using an antenna. The router will receive the transmission through the ethernet cable and decode it. This allows the router to send out the signal to connected devices in order to gain access to the Internet.
The area closest to the Wi-Fi router is called a hotspot. Devices that are in the area can connect and access the Internet with no issues. The further away from the hotspot a device is, the more likely there will be connectivity issues, and the Internet will cut out.
The Risks of Using Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi routers are devices that users set up and then forget about them. As long as the connection is good, users will forget it is even there. A homeowner may also not think about the need to secure their network at all.
This is mostly because they know all the connected devices and who owns them (i.e. a teenager’s smartphone or spouse’s laptop). These facts do not diminish the potential security risks. There are a few different ways hackers can gain information over a Wi-Fi network:
The information being sent back and forth between a network is called a packet. There are programs for people to use that capture data from the air. These programs decode the data in plain text for the person to read. A hacker can capture sensitive information this way. Encrypted data is still at risk from professional hackers, but is significantly safer.
Man In The Middle
Man in the middle attacks are when a hacker will interfere with a signal and have information sent to their system. The hacker can change file contents, record the incoming and outgoing traffic, drop traffic to block communication, install malware, and change emails.
Wardriving is when hackers drive around neighborhoods scouring for Wi-Fi networks. They will pinpoint the vulnerable networks in an area for planning future attacks. This can also be done with drones to find networks on higher levels of a building.
Rogue Access Point
Authorized users can sometimes unintentionally leave their own network vulnerable to attacks. These are one of the most common security risks for Wi-Fi networks.
Rogue access points create a security hazard because they are usually installed in a default mode, not needing authorization and with no encryption. This leaves the network vulnerable to a cyber attack.
The access point can only be detected over-the-air, causing them to go unnoticed for a long period of time easily. Almost any type of cyber attack can occur through a rogue access point.
How To Keep Your Wi-Fi Network Secure
There are many tips and tricks to increase security for a Wi-Fi network. A Wi-Fi network will never be 100% secure, but every action taken significantly reduces the risk of a breach.
Change The Username And Password Frequently
Most routers will come with an appointed username and password from the manufacturer. These are needed for setting up the router. It is always in the best interests to change the admin username and password after the router is properly set up. The username and password that the router comes with is public record.
Change The Wi-Fi Network Name
The Wi-Fi network name is what people see when searching for a network to connect to. If someone is near the hotspot, the network name will pop up in a list of nearby networks. The network name is called an SSID (service set identifier).
People will not be able to gain entry to the network without a password (after setting the network to private during setup). Usually, routers come with a network name that includes the manufacturer name in the SSID.
This gives a hacker information about the router being used and they can use that information to their advantage. Changing the SSID will also reset connected devices. If someone who has previously been connected wants to connect again, they must have the new information. This is good for downsizing how many people are connected to the network.
Firewalls in computers are a type of network security system that observes and controls network traffic (incoming and outgoing), based on preset security guidelines. Most routers come with a built-in firewall that helps protect the internal network from external attacks.
Sometimes, the firewall needs manual activation. If this is the case, the firewall will either be labeled as stateful packet inspection (SPI) or network address translation (NAT) and can be activated by clicking on it and following the instructions on the screen.
You can double your firewall protection by adding a firewall to the home computer. Many computers come with their own already installed (but may need to be activated) or firewall protection can be bought.
This added firewall on a PC will help regulate the incoming and outgoing traffic and make sure the router firewall does not accidentally send information over the network without permission.
Encrypting your wireless network is one of the most important and basic methods of securing your network and data. It increases the security of personal data and makes it harder for hackers to gain information from packets; this can be done through the router’s security settings.
In the settings, there is an option to turn on WPA2 Personal. It may also say WPA2-PSK as well. If it says WPA personal, it means that the router being used it not as modern and it is a smart idea to purchase a different router for enhanced security benefits.
The settings have an option to change the encryption type to advanced encryption standard (AES), which is what is needed for better security. A password (network key) is needed encrypted Wi-Fi as well—this password is different than the password used to connect a device to the Wi-Fi network. Again, it is always best to use a unique password.
A virtual private network (VPN) uses a third-party server to create a tunnel between devices and the Internet they are connected to. This means that the incoming and outgoing traffic is masked from outsiders.
A VPN can also block some ads as well. There are many VPN services available to choose from that will vamp up the security for your Wi-Fi network.
Just like computers update, the router should be updated as well. It is easy for hackers to find ways into a Wi-Fi network if the device is outdated. These ways into the network are called holes. Manufacturers are aware of the security holes and frequently release updates to the router called firmware.
The router does not update automatically; this needs to be done by accessing the settings on the computer that the router was setup on. It is a good idea to check once a month for new firmware.
Some users decide to have a guest network setup for visitors to connect to. This is an unsecured network that does not require a password to get into. Although it may be more convenient than giving your password to every visitor, guest networks can be accessed by anyone near the hotspot.
A stranger can park on the side of the road and access your Internet. They can then use this to hack your network and obtain sensitive information. It is a good idea to forgo a guest network and stick with one that has an encrypted password.
Turn It Off
It is always a good idea to disconnect the Internet and Wi-Fi router during prolonged absences. If nothing is connected to the Internet, there is no way for it to be compromised during that time. If going on a work trip or vacation, make sure disconnecting devices from the Internet is on your list of things to do before leaving.