Wireless networks have certainly brought a lot of convenience to our lives, allowing us to work and surf from almost anywhere—home, cafes, airports and hotels around the globe. But unfortunately, wireless connectivity has also brought convenience to hackers because it gives them the opportunity to capture all data we type into our connected computers and devices through the air, and even take control of them.
While it may sound odd to worry about bad guys snatching our personal information from what seems to be thin air, it’s more common than we’d like to believe. In fact, there are hackers who drive around searching for unsecured wireless connections (networks) using a wireless laptop and portable global positioning system (GPS) with the sole purpose of stealing your information or using your network to perform bad deeds.
We call the act of cruising for unsecured wireless networks “war driving,” and it can cause some serious trouble for you if you haven’t taken steps to safeguard your home or small office networks.
Hackers that use this technique to access data from your computer—banking and personal information—that could lead to identity theft, financial loss, or even a criminal record (if they use your network for nefarious purposes). Any computer or mobile device that is connected to your unprotected network could be accessible to the hacker.
While these are scary scenarios, the good news is that there are ways to prevent “war drivers” from gaining access to your wireless network. Be sure to check your wireless router owner’s manual for instructions on how to properly enable and configure these tips.
- Turn off your wireless network when you’re not home: This will minimize the chance of a hacker accessing your network.
- Change the administrator’s password on your router: Router manufacturers usually assign a default user name and password allowing you to setup and configure the router. However, hackers often know these default logins, so it’s important to change the password to something more difficult to crack.
- Enable encryption: You can set your router to allow access only to those users who enter the correct password. These passwords are encrypted (scrambled) when they are transmitted so that hackers who try to intercept your connection can’t read the information.
- Use a firewall: Firewalls can greatly reduce the chance of outsiders penetrating your network since they monitor attempts to access your system and block communications from unapproved sources. So, make sure to use the firewall that comes with your security software to provide an extra layer of defense.
Although war driving is a real security threat, it doesn’t have to be a hazard to your home wireless network. With a few precautions, or “defensive driving” measures, you can keep your network and your data locked down.
Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.