In this day and age, it seems like everyone has WiFi at home. But do your neighbors really have their own or have they been using yours? Letting your neighbors leech off of the WiFi you pay for may not seem like a big deal, but it can be. Unlike the other possessions in your home, it’s not a physical object that you’ll miss when it’s gone. It does, however, pose a huge risk to your security.
WiFi comes into your home through fiber-optic network cables and the signal is distributed to connected gadgets through a router. An unprotected network compromises your photos and data, as well as your personal and financial information. Even though your neighbor might not have any interest in your electronic files and information, someone else might take advantage and access your private information, scan your emails for passwords, download unlawful content, or use your computer to distribute spam, spyware, or viruses. Not only could you be held responsible for any malware that originates from your network, but someone could steal your identity, skim from your bank accounts, or even take your family photos.
Is Someone Stealing Your WiFi?
Does your Internet connection seem slower than usual? Oftentimes this is the first hint that there are more than just your household’s laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and gaming devices connected to the Internet through your router.
The blinking lights on your router show you’re connected to the Internet and can also help you figure out what devices are connected through an Ethernet cable or via WiFi. To help determine if there are extra devices on your network, disconnect your wireless devices from the router. If there are blinking lights, a device is still connected. Check to make sure you haven’t forgotten to disconnect one. This isn’t the most fail-safe method of determining if someone is stealing your WiFi, but it can be helpful.
After looking at the blinking lights and disconnecting devices from the router, your next step is to log on to your router and check the devices that are registered to it. When you set up your devices, you assign them a name. Mobile phones, tablets, gaming consoles, laptops, and even eReaders will show up in the list of devices attached to your router. Make sure you know each and every device that’s connected. If you don’t recognize a device that’s on your network, it could be one you’ve forgotten about or one that belongs to someone else. Ensure that there are no unknown devices connected to your network.
At this point, you’ve determined whether or not there are any unauthorized devices on your network. Now would be a good time to take the following steps to secure your home WiFi.
4 Steps to Secure Your WiFi
- Encrypt It — In order to secure your WiFi network from parasitic neighbors and any other unauthorized individuals, start by turning on your router’s encryption by setting a wireless network password. You’ll need something far more complicated than the word ‘password’ or the house number of your address. The best passwords are lengthy, random combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols. Write down your wireless network password and tape it to the bottom of your router or put it in another easily accessible place.
- Raise the Firewall — A firewall is a hardware or software network security system that filters network traffic to protect your devices from unauthorized access. It’s likely that your router came with one already installed, but like encryption, it could have been turned off when you set it up. Consult the manual for your router for instructions on setting up your firewall.
- Change the Passwords — If you haven’t already done so, change the default password that came with your router to prevent cyber thieves from finding a way in. It’s not uncommon for digital criminals to know the default passwords that come with wireless network routers and use their knowledge for their benefit. Just like your WiFi network password should be a lengthy, random combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, make your default password just as complicated (but different from your encryption password).
- Rename Your Network — Every device that broadcasts a wireless connection has a network SSID, or service set identifier. Wireless routers have a default SSID but you can have some fun by renaming yours with a unique name that does not reveal your – or your immediate family’s – identity.
While it might sound laborious to take the necessary steps to secure your home’s WiFi, it’s a worthwhile use of your time. The consequences of having a network router without a firewall or any antivirus or anti-spyware are far more time consuming to deal with than the alternative. Plus, you’ll sleep better at night knowing your network isn’t spreading malware to other machines around the globe, your keystrokes aren’t being logged, and your personal data, files, financial information, and photos are secure behind your own, private firewall.
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