Network Security for Beginners

  AlanHo 11:23 30 Jul 2005

I was round at a friends house today and happened to have my laptop with me. He needed some info from me so I fired up the laptop in his house - to find to my surprise that it detected and connected to a wireless network. I was able to browse the web and access my Emails. He lives in a residential area so I presume it must be a neighbour using a wireless broadband router on his home computer. I guess it cannot be a commercial hot spot because it did not request any log-in details.

This sponsors two questions.

Would anyone local - who has a wireless PCI card in their computer - be able to make the connection.

I have a wireless network router at home to connect with my laptop - how do I check whether it can be accessed by others - and if it is - how do you stop it?

When I returned home I did two things

Firstly I made sure that my home network is secure from intrusion - it wasn't - but hopefully it is OK now since I visited the Netgear web site and set up security on the wireless router.

Secondly I took the laptop out in the car and cruised down a couple of local roads to see if other people were secure. In the space of a mile or so I located three home wireless networks I was able to connect to. Why pay for broadband when it seems to be so freely available by courtesy of others?

This seems to indicate that there is a lot of ignorance (me included) about how to set up a secure network. When I purchased my router I soon had it up and running using the excellent Netgear guide - but the installation guide does not include detailed and easily understood instructions for setting up the security options (like WEP or WPA-PSK etc).

I originally used the Microsoft wizard to establish the network name, network key and data encryption type which I guess stops access to my computer but it appears that it does not prevent the wireless router from being hooked into by someone else (Or does it?). My use of the word “guess” was quite deliberate.

Does anyone know of a simple abc guide I can refer to - all the ones I have found seem so complex and assume a level of knowledge and computer jargon I frankly do not understand.

I have a desktop computer connected by cable to a Netgear WGR614 wireless router which in turn is connected to my internet cable modem. I also have a Dell laptop with wireless built-in which I use around the house and when I am away.

When away from home I use either BT or T Mobile wireless hot spots to connect with the web.

So what is the optimum procedure for setting up this combination?

  Taff36 14:19 30 Jul 2005

If you`e set up the wireless router with WEP or WPA encryption it should be relatively secure against a casual car cruiser passing by. If someone has the right software and are prepared to sit outside your house for long enough they could crack it I suppose but I shouldn`t worry about it.

There are many wireless access points (Home Routers) that are unsecured. Like you I find them everywhere. I think half the trouble is that when people set them up they are so "chuffed" and get surfing before they remember to encrypt the damn thing. They also forget to change their admin password. Most routers use one of two or three IP addresses for their home page. ( or for example) The username & password is usually "admin" which means you can change all the other settings. I`ve gone far enough.....

Incidentally there has been much debate about the legality of using someone elses connection in this fashion. IMHO - it`s theft! Much the same as connecting to their electricity supply which they are paying for. In America they have just jailed someone for doing it. With the owners permission it`s another kettle of fish.

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