Watch Your Wireless

I found myself reading a number of stories collected by the Associated Press over the weekend.  The lesson underscored in all of these stories?  Keep your wireless networks secure.

Being accused of downloading or distributing child pornography is a serious matter that could haunt a person for years.  When buying a wireless router for your home, small business, or corporate office, lock it down or consider the consequences.  Not only are you reducing your own personal and financial information risk, you are also preventing a visit from one of many law enforcement task forces commissioned with monitoring the distribution of disgusting and exploitive child porn.

The AP stories followed the same line:  A Buffalo man, Sarasota man, and Syracuse man were all raided by police after their wireless networks were allegedly used to download child porn.  One FBI agent is quoted as saying “You’re a creep… just admit it.”   In all three cases, after the logs were examined, neighbors were found to be responsible for the downloads over the unsecured wireless networks.

Why, in this day and age, would someone leave a wireless router insecure?  Configuration has become so point and click, there really is no excuse.  Bear in mind, however, that locking down your router is the same as locking your door.  It doesn’t STOP someone truly bent on getting in, but it does slow them down and force them to make some noise.  Some users claim to be providing a “service” to their friends and neighbors by letting them piggy-back their wireless network every so often, and in turn, they also make use of open wireless networks when they need them.  Others are fooled into thinking that leaving their wireless network open will exonerate them if accused of downloading copyrighted music or movies by claiming it could have been anyone.

The wireless industry group Wi-Fi Alliance recently published a survey indicating that 32% of Internet users have tried to connect to a wireless network that wasn’t their own.  40% said that they would be more likely to trust someone with a key to their homes than the password to their WLAN access point. The Wi-Fi Alliance recommends implementing WPA2 protections and strong passwords (at least eight characters, no dictionary words, with a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols).  You should also change your router’s settings so that your SSID is not broadcast to nearby devices, and require each device’s MAC address to be approved before a device can connect.  This will stop unidentified laptops, smartphones, iPads, and other transient devices from freely connecting when they enter range of your access point.  Might not impress your teenagers much, but it will go a long way towards avoiding unwanted legal accusations.

My wife and I are on our way to becoming empty nesters.  Sadly, we moved one kid out a month ago, and the other is preening his wings for a month from now.  As soon as they are gone, the old wireless pre-shared keys and MAC addresses listings for their devices will  all be changed.  Not because I don’t trust my kids, but if their friends access, or they lose their phones, the codes can be shared or used inappropriately.  If they don’t know or have the keys and codes, I don’t have to wonder if they were involved in some way should a breach occur.

It’s your signal, keep it that way…


4 thoughts on “Watch Your Wireless

  1. Hi MadMark,

    You got all the right recommendations for the wireless users. One other setting that will be helpful to secure your home wireless network is to adjust the power setting of the AP, where possible, so it won’t be visible beyond your home. You can’t steal something that you can’t see (or detect, in the case of wireless networking).


    • Good point Will. Some of the newer model routers also allow “signal shaping”. It allows one to contain the signal in several directions, keeping it from spreading to adjacent floors, out through walls, etc. Pretty neat stuff, and likely to be present in the higher end, corporate devices so far. It all eventually trickles down to the home and consumer market, though.

      Thanks for reading, and your comment.

    • Hi, is the ability to adjust the power setting currently available for any home network routers. Is that the same thing as signal shaping?

  2. Good questions, Tony. Willie is actually more knowledgeable than I about the topic of wireless specifically. He has been playing in that realm for years. He would know more about specific models and vendor offerings than I would.

    I can tell you that they are similar concepts, but in my opinion, are not quite the same thing.

    Power adjustment refers to being able to adjust the distance that the wireless signal travels in 3D space. Your WAP will generally throw out a signal in a spherical shape. You simply dial down the size of the sphere to restrict unauthorized use.

    Signal shaping lets you change the shape of the sphere so that it only covers the areas it needs to in each 3D axis, up, down, north, south, east and west. It offers more granular control of the signal, allowing for less uniform distribution.


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