Some quick pointers on how to stay safe when using wireless networks
In recent years wireless networking (WiFi) has become so common place that you’ll find it in most homes, businesses and social venues like cafés, bars and hotels. Some areas have begun rolling out metropolitan networks covering shopping centres, air ports or whole city centres. The convenience of wireless networks however comes with a trade-off in security that is often taken for granted or overlooked entirely. Here I’ll go over a few quick fixes to help you stay safe…
Safe at Home
If you have broadband at home then quite likely your ISP provided a router with wireless networking. Most people don’t read the instructions, plug everything in, see that it works and never look at it again until something goes wrong. The risk is that if someone else can connect to your WiFi they can potentially spy on all of your web browsing or even to intercept and change your web traffic.
Instructions for how to check or change the following bits should be included in the paperwork that came with your router and with so many different models I can’t give specific instructions here. If you get really stuck then get in touch with the make/model/ISP and I’ll see what I can do. Some of the advanced features may not be available on all routers but you should be able to control the basics, which is enough in most cases.
There are some extra changes that you can make which will make it more difficult for someone to attack your WiFi and gain access or control. These will mean a little more effort for you but the payoffs in added protection are quite significant.
Remember to check the admin console for a list of connected clients from time to time. This will let you spot anyone that’s managed to sneak in. If this happens you’ll want to change the admin password, Network Name and password after having kicked the intruder off. It would also be wise to change the login details of any websites you’ve used over the network as the intruder may have picked up on them too.
When you’re away from home and connect to someone else’s WiFi you have no idea who else is also on that network. If somebody else is on the same network as you they will be able to eavesdrop on your web traffic.
An extension for Firefox called FireSheep and an application for Android phones called FaceSniff make it as easy as clicking a button for someone to listen to network traffic for account details on some of the more popular social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The best defence against this is to make sure that you use HTTPS whenever you can so that even if someone is listening to your web traffic, the conversation will be garbled and they won’t be able to capture anything useful.