This is an all too common problem as wireless networks have become more prevalent with the spread of Broadband Internet access. Many consumers are not aware of how to configure their networks to avoid this type of unauthorized access. Most home networks and even some small business networks are unsecured and as a result there is a real potential for data loss, identity theft or getting your computer hijacked for malicious activity that can cause an even more serious liability. If an individual accesses your private wireless network, anything illegal that they do on the internet will appear that you’re are doing it. If this should happen, your Broadband Internet Provider will contact law enforcement officials and they in turn could come knocking at your door.
Individuals, who access private wireless networks without permission (Hacking), feel that our constitution gives them the right to take advantage of unsuspecting, inexperienced individuals by accessing their wireless networks. Their misconceived line of thinking is that wireless routers use radio waves and if those radio waves extend beyond the network owner’s residence or business then its fair game. These individuals are breaking the law! Anyone accessing a private wireless network without the expressed knowledge and permission of the owner may be committing numerous misdemeanors and felonies such as; Breach of Privacy, Theft of Service, Computer Tampering and Computer Trespass. If someone gains access to your computer for credit card or any other personal information, then that’s Criminal Possession of Computer Related Materials. Furthermore, each time the offender illegally logs into a private network, it is construed as a separate offense.
Lastly, if someone accesses your wireless network illegally, your files could become corrupted by viruses or other malicious code in order to potentially bypass any protection you may have running on your system.
So how do you stop this from happening to you? How can you protect your computer? There are precautions that everyone with broadband should take; however, you may find it less distressing to contact a local Computer Professional to ensure that these precautions are setup properly.
First, if you have not set the password on your router then it is using a default password that all other routers from that company use. Hackers also know that password and could easily find the computers connected to the router. So if you have not set the password on your router, you should do that. Follow the instructions that came with your router. Once you set it, you can forget it until you need to change your router's settings. The best passwords are a mix of at least eight characters, alpha, numeric, symbol and case sensitive. Furthermore, Wireless (Wi-Fi) networks add an additional weak link to network security. If your wireless network is not encrypted anyone within reception distance can access your internet connection and your computer. There are even websites that list locations of unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. Yet, encrypting your Wi-Fi network could be as easy as setting up a password. See the manual that came with your Wi-Fi transmitter for more information.
Second, most good routers have built-in firewall capabilities; however, it’s not a bad idea to have a firewall in place on your computer as well. In this case, a firewall is software that puts a barrier between your computer and the internet and/or network. You can purchase a third party Internet Security Suite program from Symantec, McAfee, eTrust, etc. or you may want to enable Window XP's firewall. To do this open Control Panel, click on Windows Firewall and click on “ON” and then “OK” (Microsoft does not provide this feature for Windows 98SE or ME).
Third, and undoubtedly the easiest precaution but somewhat extreme, is to turn your computer and network off when you are not using it. No one can hack into a computer or network that is turned off.
These three easy tips may not make your computer impenetrable to the best hackers but unless you have something valuable on your computer, like your personal information, they should discourage a hacker and convince him to find his thrills elsewhere.