Is your home or office WiFi connection secure?

"a determined hacker with a directional antenna could easily access her network from several miles away"

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Recently one of my wife’s friends decided to upgrade her home entertainment system with a new big screen LCD TV and an Internet enabled BlueRay player. One of her main objectives was to be able to watch Netflix movies on the BlueRay in the living room and also on her laptop computer using WiFi. The whole package including TV, BlueRay and a wireless router was purchased from a local vendor who offered delivery and setup as part of the deal. I was told that the vendor setup everything but was unable to get NetFlix to work on the BlueRay. WiFi was working on the computer however.

I was conscripted to get NetFlix going and to check the router setup. When I arrived, I studied the setup and quickly determined that there was no Cat-5 cable between the router and the BlueRay player. After adding the cable it was just a matter of enabling NetFlix using the BlueRay remote control. Now on to the router…

I asked the friend if she received a wireless password or instructions for setting one up from the vendor. She said that she did not receive either and that the vendor merely said everything was all set and left. This concerned me so I powered up my Asus netbook and looked for the WiFi signal. Indeed, the network was unsecured and with one click I was surfing the net on her connection! My friend was astonished that I could get in so quickly. I had to explain that I wasn’t some sort of gifted hacker and that her network was wide open to anyone within range of the signal. That meant that neighbors living a few blocks away or someone driving down the street with a laptop could easily connect. Once connected they could steal her bandwidth or possibly have a direct route to files on her computer! I went on to explain that a determined hacker with a directional antenna could easily access her network from several miles away given her location on a hill-side above town. Fortunately, we are in a very rural area so the odds of being hacked in the few days since the connection had been up were low. Nonetheless it was a big security risk to leave it unsecured.

I remedied the problem by enabling WPA-PSK on her router and setting a strong password. While I was at it, I also set a router password and then ran a ShieldsUp scan to be sure that all the common ports were showing up as stealthed or closed.  To make sure she didn’t lose the passwords I helped her download and install the KeePass password manager. Lastly, I introduced her to the idea of disk encryption and the notion e-mail was inherently an insecure means of communicating. Even though she is really smart and a top flight medical professional all of this security stuff was still news to her!

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