Wireless Theft

Don't play Host to Strangers: Protect your Wi-Fi Network

Wireless theft has become a big problem in recent years. Many don’t see the gravity of the occasional free-rider jumping on to their network to check their e-mail. Don’t be mistaken, stealing bandwidth or having your wireless bandwidth stolen can create real problems. Some of the hazards you might face include eavesdropping, theft of data, painful legal hassles or even a conviction for computer-related crimes.

The facts

  • Jupiter Research reports that at least 14% of wireless network owners have accessed their neighbors’ connection.
  • A typical home Wi-Fi signal can transmit around 150ft from your computer, a router or access point.
  • Identity theft through wireless devices is on the rise. Lurkers do not have to leave a trace they were there. Your neighbor can collect wireless information from documents or emails without you ever knowing.
  • If file sharing has been enabled on your computer, those using your network can easily access files that are enabled.
  • Having an open wireless connection can make you vulnerable to viruses and other malicious code.
  • If those outsiders are conducting illegal activities while online with your network, you may be liable as they may be traced to your IP.
  • Allowing a formal sharing arrangement is, most certainly, in violation of your Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).
  • Recently, there have been several arrests in the US for wireless bandwidth theft.
  • If others are using your connection, you are NOT getting all of the speed you’re paying for.

How to prevent theft

  • Buy devices with either WPA (Wi-Fi protected access) or WEP (wired equivalent privacy) protocol encryption technology. Ensure that these options are enabled when they are installed.
  • Change the passwords and network names from the manufacturer default. If your wireless is “linksys” and your neighbor has a “linksys” you may be on their network without knowing.
  • Disable wireless network connection capability until ready to use.
  • If the device has Windows software, keep Windows Update running at all times.
  • Consider installing a personal firewall, which costs $30 to $40 and is easy to install.
  • Disable file-sharing or restrict it for each folder to a specified, trusted group of people.
  • Always make sure that your bank or credit card passwords are different from your e-mail passwords.

What to do if you discover you have access to someone else’s network

  • Log-off immediately. Some subscribers may purposely leave their connections open to gain partial access to unsuspecting visitors’ files.
  • If you suspect you know where the signal is coming from, please inform the source as they may not be aware of others accessibility to their network.

How to know if you’re protected

Security systems may be set-up with professional installation.  During installation of a wireless modem, talk to your installer about available security features. Also, many wireless modem/routers have a built-in firewall.  If you are still not sure if your system is secure, contact Midcontinent Communications Internet Support by calling 1.800.888.1300 or emailing us for more information about your modem and wireless firewall.  For more information on router security, contact your manufacturer (linksys, D-link, Belkin).

Related Article Links

  1. CNN.com: Stealing your neighbor's Net
  2. Jwire.com: Warchalking- The underground culture of Wi-Fi
  3. Infoworld.com: The Case of the Stolen Wi-Fi
  4. CNet.com: Worried about Wi-Fi Security

Wireless Broadband Theft Terms

Firewall- A piece of hardware and/or software which functions in a networked environment to prevent some communications forbidden by the security policy. With a wireless network you should have 2 firewalls, between your wireless and cable modems and another running on your computer.

LAN- (Local Area Network)- A wired computer network limited to the immediate area, usually the same building or floor of a building.

Wi-Fi- (Wireless Fidelity) - A popular term for a form of wireless data communication, basically Wi-Fi is "Wireless Ethernet".

Sniffer- A computer program on a laptop or a separate device that finds all traffic on a network, it may filter on some specific rules, it may collect that data and/or it may decode the data in real time. Nothing is a secret to one of these programs; connections between devices on a wireless network can easily be found including text messages, financial transactions and file transfers

Wardriving- the practice of driving around an area to detect open Wi-Fi nodes

Warchalking- The act of marking buildings and sidewalks with chalk to let others know about the availability of Wi-Fi access

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