Wireless networks in the home are far more convenient than traditional wired ones, but they bring with them certain security risks. It’s important that you take precautions to stop people connecting to your network, or even changing your network settings without your knowledge.
Most wireless home networks are made up of a router – which you can access using a wireless-enabled computer – and a web browser. You can use the latter to access your router and change settings, including security settings.
If you don’t implement proper security measures, anyone within range (such as neighbours and passers-by) who has a wireless-enabled device could piggyback your broadband internet connection, or possibly gain access to your PC. So don’t forget to enable encryption – the process of encoding or scrambling messages – when you install your network.
Change a router's security settings and password
Each router is different, so refer to the manual that came with the router for security settings. But for general instructions, try the following:
Click on the Start button on your computer, then choose All Programs and launch Internet Explorer or another web browser. Enter the address of your router into the browser’s address bar.
This is a number listed in your router instruction manual. For many brands, the number you need to enter is 192.168.1.1. Press Enter.
You’ll see a page that looks like a webpage, which is hosted in the router. From here you can make changes to the router.
To change the default password, click the Administration tab (this may vary between routers). Some older routers come with weak passwords such as ‘admin’ that are easy to guess, so it's important to use a good one.
Encrypting a wireless network
Finally, you need to encrypt your network. Your router instruction manual should show you how.
There are two main kinds of encryption: WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) or WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access). Both use a system that prevents any wireless device without the correct authentication key from accessing the network.
WPA is newer and slightly stronger, as it scrambles the encryption key, but check first that all the devices on your network can use it before choosing this option.
The first step is to turn on encryption on your wireless router by going to the configuration utility, locating the security settings and following the instructions there.
Once you’ve done this, make a note of the authorisation key, and type this in when asked to during the setup for each of your other wireless devices.
Renaming a wireless network
All wireless networks have a name (sometimes called the SSID) that you can change when you set up your router. Change it to something that doesn’t give any clues to your identity or to the type of router that you’re using. For example, don’t call it by the name of your router. Make sure you keep a note of the new name, ideally taped to the router itself.
Advanced Tip: You can also tell the router not to broadcast the network name (or SSID). This makes it more difficult for anyone looking for a network to connect to it. If you won’t often be connecting new devices to your network, consider turning off the router’s broadcast SSID option. The downside to this is it can make it much more difficult even for you to connect new devices, or reconnect old devices if their settings are wiped (after a software upgrade, for instance). That's because you have to manually type in the SSID to search for it - make sure you note down the SSID name if you decide not to broadcast it.