It’s not uncommon for a wireless network to stretch beyond your home. If you leave it unsecured, anyone with a computer, smartphone, tablet or other Wi-Fi-enabled devices can start piggy-backing on your broadband connection. That means that although you’re paying for the connection, some people – let’s call them ‘freeloaders’ – could be taking advantage of your connection and getting something for nothing.
But perhaps you’re more charitable than I am – sharing is caring, right? Unfortunately, people piggy-backing on your wireless network can have a dramatic impact on broadband performance. The more people using a Wi-Fi connection, the slower speeds will be; so to ensure broadband speeds are as fast as possible, set up a security key on your wireless network.
If you want to give friends or neighbors access, you can still give them the password to use it, but you don’t have to worry about unauthorized guests hogging your bandwidth.
Lock the doors and close the windows
All valid reasons to protect your Wi-Fi, but wireless networks, for all their convenience, are also more susceptible to attacks by hackers than a wired connection. If you leave yours unsecured, anyone nearby could potentially gain access to your computer and the information stored on it.
Look at it this way: when you leave the house or flat, you don’t leave the windows open and the door unlocked. But if you leave your Wi-Fi network unsecured, that’s not dissimilar to what you’re doing – you’re inviting anyone in to come and have a poke round your computers.
Of course, the reality is that it’s unlikely that someone will try to break into one of your devices, but it’s not impossible and for the sake of entering a short password a few times, I’d rather have peace of mind.
What about public hotspots?
Public Wi-Fi hotspots don’t usually require you to enter a password when you connect to them. And that’s the whole point, right? It’s meant to be quick and easy to log on while you’re out and about. But that means they are also unsecured, and as such it’s worth bearing that in mind as you surf. Someone on the same network could get access to your computer, for example:
Again, it seems the likelihood of a hacker getting in your computer in this way is pretty remote, but the potential for that happening is there. Public hotspots are great, and by all means use them, but it’s best if you make sure that that you have an adequate firewall and anti-virus software installed to minimize the risk.
Secure your home wireless network
You can reduce the chance of any of these problems occurring at home by securing and encrypting your network. This is easy to do and just takes a moment to set up.
There are two common types of encryption used: Wi-FI protected access (WPA) and a much older method called wireless equivalent privacy (WEP).
WPA is far superior to WEP encryption, making it much harder for your data to be accessed without authorisation. However, some older devices are not compatible with WPA encryption. In those cases, use WEP – it’s considerably weaker than WPA, but weaker protection is better than none.
Whichever encryption method you choose, setup is simple. Some broadband providers offer software which enables you to control security, but even if they don’t you can go into your router settings using the IP address listed in the router manual – usually these start 192.168 and are followed by either a 0 or 1 and a number between 1 and 255.
From there, you can change your settings and secure your wireless network.