A man from Buffalo, New York received a harsh lesson in securing his home Wi-Fi network after federal agents raided his house in the early hours on suspicion of downloading child pornography.
According to the unfortunate homeowner, federal agents burst in at 6.20am on March 7, knocking down the back door. The man jumped out of bed to be confronted by seven armed agents, who accused him of downloading thousands of obscene, and more to the point, illegal images the evening before.
Forced to get on the ground, the man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, protested his innocence. “You’re a creep… just admit it,” one agent reportedly responded.
After two hours of searching the man’s computers, the investigators had to conclude that they had the right address, but not the right man. It turned out the homeowner had given up trying to make a password for his wireless network and had left it unprotected.
One of his neighbors had taken advantage of the unsecured network and used it to download the illegal content, leading to the dawn raid on his home.
While this is an extreme case, unsecured wireless networks are also vulnerable to downloading pirated content, which can result in the account owner receiving notices from their Internet Service Provider (ISP) or even a fine. It could be very difficult to prove your innocence to your ISP or a Hollywood studio determined to punish you for your neighbor’s activities.
There is no law in the US prohibiting the use of an unsecured connection. Accessing a person’s Internet connection without their permission could be construed as fraud against the ISP, but some people assume that if you have left your network unlocked, you won’t mind it being used.
Of course, it’s better to make a password for your wireless network and avoid the hassle. Securing your wireless network isn’t that difficult and it’s a small price to pay as insurance against federal agents knocking down your door.
Securing your Network
Different routers will have slightly different processes for setting up a password protected network. Newer routers should have WPA/WPA2 encryption. This is the strongest form of WiFi security currently available. Avoid WEP.
If you have a manual, it’s best to consult the instructions offered by the router manufacturer (try their website or give them a call if you get confused). Most routers are similar though – look for Wireless Settings from the main menu and you will usually see an option to change the SSID (this is the name of your network) and the Password (you will then be asked for the password whenever you connect a new device to your network).
Here are the typical steps needed to secure a Netgear router:
- Use an Ethernet cable to connect your computer to one of the LAN ports in the back of the modem.
- Open a web browser and enter the router’s IP address: http://192.168.0.1 or http://192.168.1.1
- Enter the default username and password (admin, password)
- Select Wireless Settings from the Setup menu in the left-hand navigation bar
- Under Wireless Network, enter your preferred network name in the SSID box
- Select WPA-PSK [TKIP] + WPA2-PSK [AES] as your Security Option
- Enter your preferred password in the Passphrase box (make it a mix of characters and numbers so it isn’t easily guessed)
- Click Apply to save your settings.
Here are the typical steps for securing a Cisco Valet or Linksys router:
After installing your modem, a wireless network name (SSID) and password will be automatically generated for you. Make a note of the password, as you will need it to connect other devices.
You can change the password and SSID by going into Router Settings or Valet Settings from the main menu of your router, which you get to by going into Cisco Connect (a program you installed when you first set up the router) then following the prompts.
Steps to secure a D-link router:
- Connect your computer to the router using an Ethernet cable
- Launch your internet browser, type in 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1 (check for your model) into the address bar and hit enter
- Your default username is admin and there is no password
- Click on the Home menu, then select Wireless settings
- You will have a few options under Security – choose WPA-PSK if available
- If you want to change your network name, change it in the Network ID (SSID) box. If you want to change the password, change it in the Preshare Key box.
It’s not hard to find specific instructions for your own model on the manufacturer’s website. Setting a password should be the first thing you do when you set up your wireless network and is much easier than replacing a back door.
You should also make a point of changing the default admin password for the Web interface of the router. Again, this takes literally less than a minute and is more than worth the time it takes.