Wireless Internet Networking is Great, Right? Yes, But Beware

The image is enticing, a modern day Norman Rockwell portrait. Your children are upstairs on the home computer, and you and your spouse are downstairs in the den, each with your own laptop – everyone comfortably sharing the same Internet connection, and everyone getting the individual computer time that they need in today’s fast paced world. Wireless networking is now affordable for everyone, and as a result, thousands of consumers have recently or will soon set up a wireless network. But there is a dark side to this convenience, one that could cost you money, time and reputation. If you have a home computer network, read on.

Most consumers are a little leery of the technical prowess they perceive is needed to set up a home network. However, once they plug in the hardware and follow the initial instructions, they are delighted when they get an Internet connection – and most tend to stop there when they are “successful.” They don’t realize that the wireless signal doesn’t stop at the walls of their house, and they don’t take that last and crucial step – changing the manufacturer’s default password and access code. In similar scenes that are repeated every day across the country, the “security” aspect of what these delighted homeowners have just done makes network administrators cringe from head to toe.

What our average consumer has just done is provided Internet accessibility to anyone within striking distance, opening up their connection and even their computers to neighborhood hacks. This is today’s equivalent of leaving your car running with the doors unlocked, the windows down and the garage door open. And for those who have malicious intent, you may as well have a big neon sign in the front yard that says “Free Internet – and See My Computer’s Content Too! Want to see pictures of my kids? See my financial records? Get access to my password list? Then click your computer now…”

“War driving” is a new and disturbing term given to those who literally drive around neighborhoods with a laptop and wireless card looking for vulnerable wireless networks. With simple equipment available to anyone, “war drivers” simply drive up to your house, plug into your connection and access any computers that are not secure. There are “how to” sites on the Internet instructing anyone on what they need to do to hijack a home network.

The concern, however, is not limited to just home networks. Unbelievably, the issue is rampant with business wireless networks as well. In a recent report done by our local NBC television affiliate, driving through any neighborhood, corporate office park or downtown business district provided similar access to wireless networks, and they were successful for tapping in to both home as well as business computers.

Take this article as a red flag – a flare sent up to help you avoid massive problems down the road. If you have a wireless network, or are considering setting one up, be sure you do all you can to protect yourself.

Related articles: Read the article from NBC affiliate WTHR.

Find out what you can do to protect yourself.

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