By: Jeff Johnston
Q: How secure are wireless routers for sharing internet between computers? - Carol in London Ontario
A: Wireless routers have received a lot of bad press lately. I have seen a number of reports on different news programs about the insecurity of wireless routers. The fact is wireless routers are secure if they are configured to be secure. The problem with security in wireless routers is that people generally don't configure them to ensure security. The perception tends to be that configuring a secure wireless network is too difficult. The fact is that most wireless routers comes with easy to follow instructions on how to enable encryption on the router to secure the network. If you follow the steps as laid out in the instructions for securing your network then your network is reasonably secure. By default a wireless router is wide open, which means that anyone can hack into your network.
You may think that no one would bother hacking into your home network, but the fact is people do just that. The process is called "War Driving". Basically the hacker drives around with a laptop and wireless network card, his laptop notifies him when it picks up a network connection that he can use and he parks his car and uses the newly found network connection. This allows the hacker to use your internet connection for whatever he wants, hacking into other systems and leaving a trace back to your network, surfing for illegal pornography, or anything they want to do on the internet and not have traced back to them.
One method is to use MAC address filters. Using the management software that came with the router you would be able to specify which specific computers would have access to the router. Because MAC addresses are hard coded to a network card you would be ensuring that only the computers you specify are permitted to use your network. The problem with this method is that it takes a considerable amount of manual configuration, however the instructions for doing this configuration should be included in the documentation for your router.
The generally preferred method for home networks is WEP, or Wireless Encryption Protocol. This method works by establishing a shared key, or password, between the router and the computer. Data is encrypted before being sent over the airways and the key is needed in order to send to the router or receive from the router. In other words, the computer would have to have the password in order to use the connection.
While there is no such thing as the 100% secure wireless network there is certain precautions you should take in order to ensure the security of your home wireless network.