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Video Guide: Securing Your Wireless Network

For the longest time, I've wanted to put together a video showing readers how to secure their wireless routers by switching on the encryption and other security features built in to most of these devices, in the same way that Security Fix produced a series of video guides to securing your computer. (Note to self: Get that link back up on the front of the blog).

But alas, procrastination and other projects got the best of me. But I am happy to report that GetNetWise, a group of nonprofit and security companies led -- at least on this project -- by Symantec Corp. took a stab at it this week, releasing a pretty decent visual guide to switching on the security features in three of the more popular wireless products: Netgear, Linksys and Apple Airport.

The videos walk you through changing the default password on your router. This is a basic first step -- there are entire Web sites dedicated to listing the default passwords for wireless devices broken down by vendor and model number.

The page also describes how to set up your router to require an encrypted password to access the network. It covers encryption setup instructions for both the older Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol and the newer Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). Security experts have shown that WEP keys have a weakness that allows them to be cracked in minutes or even seconds by a skilled attacker. WPA can also be cracked, but it is more difficult to do so.

Other tutorials included in these videos show you how to restrict access to your network to only those machines whose physical hardware address (or MAC address) matches a list pre-set by you, as well as how to disable broadcasting of the Service Set Identifier (SSID), which transmits the name and availability of your wireless access point to any wireless-equipped computers in range.

Just a couple of comments here: A lot of people put off setting up their wireless routers for security because they get overwhelmed by the all the terminology (MAC, SSID, WPA, WEP, 802.11b, c, d and the rest of the alphabet soup that is the wireless standards industry). That's why I believe videos like these are so important. If you're a wireless security newbie, consider watching the video once or twice before you try to follow along on your machine (there is a pause button on the right edge of the video screen and a stop button that lets you start over again.

One thing to bear in mind (but not to dwell on) is that none of the protections described in this or any other tutorial -- used independently or together -- will completely protect your wireless network from getting hacked by a determined and skilled attacker. But if someone just wants free wireless access, chances are they will mosey on down the street to your neighbor's unencrypted network (if you live in an apartment building, there are probably multiple unencrypted networks). Think of it like The Club for your car -- thieves can still break in, but it takes them extra time and trouble to get the thing off the steering wheel, so they are likely to keep looking for an un-Clubbed car.

I'm not entirely sure why D-Link was left out of these instructions, but I could certainly produce a useful wireless tutorial for that if there are any takers.

By Brian Krebs  |  March 8, 2006; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Safety Tips  
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