Don't show off

Keeping your wireless home network open is just as good as advertising your internet connection and data on a billboard.

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By  Cleona Godinho Published  April 21, 2008

Whilst channel surfing last night, I came across a show called ‘Click' - BBC's flagship technology programme. One of the show's segments focused on how home WiFi networks leak free broadband access and file sharing into the streets. To make his point, the show's host went to a residential area and tried scanning for WiFi networks with his laptop.

Inspired by his little experiment, I went to my balcony and set-up my laptop to automatically detect WiFi connections to check how secure (or not) the networks were in my building.

What I found was shocking; of the six networks I discovered, only one showed up with the ‘security-enabled' tag. (For those interested, the network's SSID name was ‘This is Ahmed's PC, now buzz off'.)

The remaining five showed up as open - advertising these networks as insecure - and in three cases with a Service Set Identifier (SSID) name still set at the factory default (e.g. ‘Netgear').

The first open network I tried to access let me connect for a short while before cutting me off. This was most likely a notebook with a firewall installed that threw up a warning when I tried to get in.

However, the second network let me connect with no problem at all. I was able to watch a YouTube video, login to Facebook, and view my Gmails. I didn't try to explore the person's files and folders, but the scary part is I could have.

Now because the signal was so strong, I suspected it was my neighbour's connection, and later found out it in fact was. So why did he leave his network open? "Getting WiFi to work is too tricky," he said.

I reckon this is possibly a big reason why a number of you don't secure your wireless home networks; you're so thrilled to get them working that the last thing you want to do is add security and risk shutting it down. But what you don't realise is that the price you pay for a little extra work is your privacy and so much more.

Not only are you displaying your financial statements, digital pics, e-mails and sensitive documents for your neighbours to see, you're also advertising this information when you connect to hotspots in airports or shopping malls.

Moreover, your unsecured network could become a breeding ground for viruses and worms, both of which can wreak havoc on your PC. Even more frightening is that fact that a hacker can easily take over your PC and perform illegal activities using your web connection, such as sending spam or malware.

Last but not least, when freeloaders use your internet connection, your bandwidth reduces significantly, which means downloads take longer and websites don't load as quickly. This, I'm sure, is the last thing you want, especially considering the steep net prices you have to pay up in this region.

As you can clearly see, an open wireless network is no laughing matter, so to keep your privacy, PC and pennies protected, click here, scroll to the end of the page, and lock your LAN once and for all. No excuses folks.

Do you agree or disagree with this article? Let me know by e-mailing me at windows@itp.com.

3503 days ago
Khalil

I agree wireless security is important, but it is also important to realise that making your wireless secure is not the same as making your PC or laptop secure. While having your wifi at home unsecure is a potential problem, the risks are not so big, as any attacker will have to be nearby - and while people parked in cars could potentially be a threat, the likelihood is, attackers after profit probably won't bother. More scary is internet cafes with free (or even paid-for) wifi - this has to be unsecured, so people can access it. This gives a single hacker the chance to sit for hours and harvest any personal details sent over the air - probablly from wealthy business types using the service.

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