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Front Page » November 21, 2006 » Tech Tips » Implications of Wireless Networking
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Implications of Wireless Networking

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We're a society on the go. We have places to go, appointments to meet and chores to do. We like our cell phones, notebook computers & PDAs because they are mobile like we are. But as convenient as these devices may be, they can cause us major grief if used inappropriately. Such is the case with dozens of wireless home networks throughout Carbon and Emery counties.

In recent years, many local residents have rid themselves of dial-up in favor of much faster technologies (like DSL, cable or satellite). Many end up buying small, all-in-one networking appliances (often referred to as "DSL routers" by the manufacturer) that deter hackers (via a firewall) and even shares Internet among connected PCs. Many such devices even provide wireless connectivity to wireless-capable PCs, PDAs and other devices. Although these devices provide a wealth of features, they can actually be a major security risk if care hasn't been taken to secure them - especially the wireless components.

If your DSL or cable connection leads into a small box labeled "Linksys", "NetGear" or "Belkin" and it has one or more antennas on the top or back, chances are its a "wireless DSL router" with wireless capability (wireless network functionality). If you have never changed any of the settings on the router itself, now is a good time to do so.

By default, most of these devices openly advertise wireless availability to all PCs within range (which can often exceed several hundred yards). They also, by default, do nothing to prevent remote PCs from connecting.

The result is that many of you are providing free Internet access to your neighbors and don't even know it. In fact, there are people in the Carbon/Emery area who have opted not to subscribe to DSL or cable because their neighbor (unknowingly) has been providing them regular Internet access for several years. And many of the abusers have the attitude that if you are going to offer free Internet (unknowingly or otherwise), they can and will use it.

The implications are far more reaching than just offering free Internet, though. An open wireless system also provides them with a direct connection to any PCs you may have attached to your wireless DSL router (wired or wireless), creating the potential for malicious activity (intrusions, viruses, etc).

An open wireless system also allows users in the vicinity to eavesdrop on your own wireless activity. By default, wireless DSL routers broadcast in the clear, which means users in range can "read" what is being transmitted back and forth.

Configuration of your router is typically done via a web page which requires a password to access. Typically, this is, but it often depends on the manufacturer of your DSL router.

Here are some things you can do to prevent unauthorized access to your wireless network (DSL router):

1) Turn off SSID broadcasting. This will require authorized users to know the name of your wireless network (called the SSID) to connect.

2) Enable MAC filtering. Your mac address (which is unique to every wired or wireless computer) looks something like 00:13:72:A5:D3:E1 and can contain numbers 0-9 as well as letters A-F. If a person's MAC address isn't listed inside your router, your router won't talk to it wirelessly. If you are using Windows XP, you can get your MAC address through your network connection link in your system tray (by your clock), or by the "ipconfig /all" command, which must be invoked from a command line.

3) Enable mandatory encryption on the router. Authorized users will need to enter a pass phrase into their computer to connect. Communication won't be sent in the clear, so eavesdroppers won't be able to snoop so easily. WEP is the easiest to implement, but the encryption isn't very strong. Use WPA Personal or WPA2 Personal (preferred), if possible.

4) Change the default password on the router's administrative site.

If you are unsure how to accomplish these tasks, first check the documentation that came with the router. Many come with software (usually on a CD) that can assist you in securing your wireless network. If the password to your router's administrative site has been changed without your consent, you can reset the router to its default configuration. Again, see your documentation or owner's manual for information on how to do this.

If you have trouble implementing these steps, or are worried it is more than you can handle, focus on enabling mandatory encryption at a minimum. This step alone will fix most of the unauthorized access problems.

Search engines like Google or Yahoo are also good search tools which can yield further information on your given wireless DSL router model.

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