*Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes and those that follow the instructions given without decent knowledge of what they are doing will be held solely responsible for any mistakes made. This article is to be used as a virtual template as to how to set your personal home router’s security settings. Each router is different and the user should read the instructions that came with his/her equipment before making various changes to their system. If you are not comfortable with changing your encryption key or anything else listed in this article, then please seek the help of a professional first. I will in no way be held responsible for any problems you may create or mistakes you may make on your own part.*
No matter whether you live in a big city or a quiet town, if you have a Wi-Fi connection in your home then you should try to secure it from intruders. A home Wi-Fi connection is basically a home wireless router or other wireless device, such as a wireless modem, to connect your computer or computers to the internet in your home. The problem with not securing your Wi-Fi properly is that anyone could possibly “jump” on your internet connection and use it for whatever they want. This means if someone in your neighborhood, or even someone sitting outside in their car, decides to use your wireless connection to look for kiddie porn on the internet you may be the one left “holding the bag”. In other words, if a person uses your connection for this purpose and the police investigate, they may end up beating down your door and confiscating your computers because the IP address was generated from your internet service provider (ISP).
This scenario, of course, is just the tip of the ice burg on why you need to secure your home Wi-Fi connection. Besides allowing anyone to use your connection for whatever purpose they see fit, they may also be able to track your activity or even assess the personal files on your computer. So how can the typical home owner take steps to secure their Wi-Fi without hiring an expert and paying them for time spent? This is actually easier than you think. There are a few steps you can personally take to help secure your connection, but keep in mind that nothing can be secured 100%.
First of all, if you are using a wireless router, the router should have come with either a paper instruction booklet, a CD with a digital instruction booklet, or both. Which ever version you have the information that was sent with the router needs to be read thoroughly. Sometimes the information sent by the router company can be overwhelming and you may not be sure if you have done everything or even have done it correctly. So to begin, after reading through the instructions locate the router address. This should be a series of numbers that you can enter into Internet Explorer, as a website address, in order to log into your router configuration settings. The typical address for a router will look something like 192.168.0.1. Even though it does not look like a regular web address, it will connect you to your router’s configuration site.
Once you plug in the address, there should be a log in that pops up for your router. If you did not change this during installation it is normally “Admin” for the user name (without the quotations) and either “admin” or “password” for the default password (again, minus the quotations). If this is not the default for your router then it will be listed in your instruction book or you actually did change it during setup and so you need to use the password you created at that time. If your password was the default password, then I would highly suggest changing it by going to the Administrator Settings section or the Tools section of the configuration screen. There should be a section that would display your administrator password, but by default most routers will have this area blank until you pick a password that you want to use. Remember, if you put in a password please either commit it to memory or write it down in a place that will be hidden from prying eyes. Also, remember to select “save settings” if you have added or changed a password.
The next step is to see if you are broadcasting a SSID, or a Service Set Identifier. This is the name that shows for your wireless router if you were to look for the available wireless connections in your area. Most routers will set the product name, such as Linksys, as the default SSID. Some people change their SSID when setting up their router for the first time, which is okay depending on the name you choose. However, this means that your Wi-FI connection is shown to anyone within range, as well as the type of security you use to protect it (such as WEP or WPA encryption). The best bet for better security is to not broadcast, or show, your SSID at all. This means that only you will know that it is there, unless someone has a software program that they may use to show all wireless connections in an area. The vast majority of people will not have this software so by not broadcasting your SSID you already have an advantage on securing your Wi-Fi.
So how do you not broadcast your SSID? You will need to check your instruction manual again, but with most routers it will be listed under the “Wireless Network Settings” section. With some routers, such as D-Link, you can still use your SSID name so you see it, but by selecting “Invisible” for visibility status nobody else can see your SSID being broadcast. This does not mean that you can’t add more wireless connections, such as another computer, in the future. You would have to simply add them manually and then once added the new device will be able to see the SSID as well. So basically your SSID is still there, but only you and whoever you give access to will be able to see it; except for the limited amount of people that may be running various programs, like I covered earlier.
So now that you have a password and you are not showing that you have an actual wireless connection, there is one last step to take for basic home Wi-Fi security. The next and last thing you should check, while still in your router configurations, is the type of security encryption you have in place for your router. Most new routers give you an option of WEP, WPA, and WPA2. The best encryption you can use is WPA or WPA2 because it gives you the option of using any configuration of numbers, letters, and symbols as your password; plus the passwords are longer. In general, WEP is a lot easier to break and has been proven in the past that a 10 character key can be broken in under 60-seconds. Here is an example of the difference in encryption keys: you can have a password for WPA/WPA2 that is 64 characters long and includes anything you want to use, but a WEP password is limited to certain numbers and letters and can only be around 10-13 characters and up to 26 characters if you are lucky.
All you have to do is check your encryption key settings, which should be found under the wireless network settings where you went to change your SSID. If your encryption is showing as WEP, I would highly recommend changing it to WPA or WPA2 and setting a very strong password as well. The password for WPA/WPA2 is a longer password so I would recommend writing it down and putting it in a safe place that is out of sight. Also, keep in mind that once you make changes to your router’s configurations and save them, the router will want to “restart”. Once you change your encryption password and the router “restarts”, you will need to go to your network settings under Control panel and change the password for your Wi-Fi connection so it matches the new encryption password. To do this, go to Control Panel, Network Connections, right-click on Wireless Network Connection and select Properties. From there click the Wireless Networks tab at the top. The “preferred networks” box should have your connection, or SSID, highlighted. Once highlighted click the Properties button which will bring you to the Encryption key information for your Wi-Fi connection. Under the Association tab select the proper Network Authentication type (WPA, WPA-PSK, etc), then select the Data Encryption type (AES or TKIP), and finally type in the password you just created in the Network Key section as well as the Confirm Network Key section. Finally go to the Connection tab and make sure the “Connect when this network is in range” box is checked. Finally click OK to close the window and you should be ready for your router to connect by using the new encryption key but not broadcast your SSID to everyone.
That is basically it in a nutshell. By taking a few basic steps you have now successfully made your home Wi-Fi connection more secure from intruders and prying eyes. OF course this is just the beginning since there are boundless other security features available for home wireless connection use, but this is a great place to get started. From this point on you can feel more comfortable knowing that your wireless home connection is not being shared unknowingly with people that could be using it for malevolent practices. You may now sleep a little easier at night.