Your wi-fi network is at risk

Hackers can access your home wi-fi network in seconds. Here's how to protect your network...

Recent research from life assistance company, CPP, has revealed that nearly half of home wi-fi networks can be hacked in less than five seconds.

In an ‘ethical hacking’ experiment conducted across six UK cities, almost 40,000 networks were revealed as high-risk, opening up the personal data of thousands of people. Nearly a quarter of private wireless networks were found to have no password attached, making them easily accessible to criminals.

This is pretty scary stuff. After all, no one likes the thought of others being able to access your personal information. Not only can this help hackers to hide criminal activities, such as selling on stolen goods, they can also view any private transactions you might have carried out. This will give them access to passwords and user names, which, in turn, gives hackers access to emails, social networks, and online banking sites, allowing the criminal to commit identity fraud.

What’s more, many of us are now using publicly available networks – such as those in coffee shops, restaurants and airports – and are often unwittingly logging onto a fake wi-fi network. In fact, the CPP study showed that more than 200 people logged onto a fake wi-fi network without realising it over the course of an hour. Meanwhile, hackers were able to ‘harvest’ usernames and passwords from unsuspecting people at a rate of more than 350 an hour. Eek!

So just how can you protect yourself whether you’re using your network at home or away? Here are 11 tips for using your wireless network safely.

1. Use encryption on your wireless access points (WAP)

The first and most important way to protect your wireless network is by encryption. This scrambles data on your wireless network so that only computers with the encryption key can read your communications.

There are two encryption Wi-Fi standards – Wireless Equivalent Protection (WEP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). However, the problem with WEP is that it’s easily cracked. WPA is much more secure.

If your wireless router and all of your wireless computers and devices support it, WPA2 encryption should be your first choice as it provides the highest level of encryption available.

Use a strong password for your encryption key – for example, a combination of letters and numbers of 14 characters or more.

2. Install a firewall

A firewall helps to protect your PC by preventing unauthorised users from accessing your computer through the internet or a network. It acts as a barrier that either blocks information coming through or lets it through. So makes sure you have a firewall installed and that it’s switched on.

You can view a list of popular firewalls here.

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3. Be obscure!

All wireless routers should have obscure identities. Don’t make it obvious who owns the connection or put in any real information that will reveal your location or business name. Be vague and use something like ‘wireless’ or ‘router 1’ that doesn’t give anything away.

4. Position access points correctly

Access points transfer data between your devices, so try to position them away from the outside wall of your building to reduce leakage of radio signals. This will minimise the chance of interception from outside.

5. Monitor your employees!

If you run a business, make sure your employees don’t add access points without your authorisation.

6. Implement a VPN

If you’re using your laptop at a public hotspot, the best way to protect a public wireless link is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This encrypts all of the data that passes over the ‘insecure’ network so it can’t be accessed by any snoopers!

7. Turn off file sharing

You can use file sharing on your home network, but if you’re using public hotspots, turn it off to prevent anyone close by being able to access files from your system.

8. Check the public hotspot is legitimate

Some hackers have been known to set up a hotspot themselves at a public location and then steal your personal details when you connect. So make sure you check with someone before you connect at a hotspot. For example, if you're at a cafe, ask the waiter for the name of the hotspot to ensure you’re using the right one.

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9. Be careful about information

When using a public hotspot, avoid typing in any sensitive information such as username, passwords and credit card numbers.

If you really do need to enter financial details, check that there’s a locked padlock symbol in the bottom right hand corner of the browser window and check the web address starts with ‘https’ rather than ‘http’ as the ‘s’ signifies it’s secure.

10. Check your bank statements regularly

Always keep a close eye on your bank statements so that you’ll immediately be able to spot any suspicious transactions.

You can easily do this with the online banking tool as this amalgamates information from all your different providers, allowing you to see all of your different statements at a single glance, with a single log-in. (You can also categorise all your transactions, so you'll know immediately if some of your spending seems out of place.)

11. Turn off your wireless network when you’re not using it

Finally, if you’re not browsing on the internet or checking your emails, but you’re still using your computer/laptop in a public hotspot, disable your wireless connection or remove your wireless card.

Tell us your tips

If you have any tips of your own on how to protect yourself from hackers and fraudsters, please share them using the comments box below.

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