Secure your wireless network

Secure your wireless network

Make sure your wireless network is safely locked away from hackers

Wireless networks are almost universal these days, and pretty much anyone is capable of joining one. Just as locking your front door prevents strangers coming in off the street to nose around your home and potentially steal your property, securing your network protects both the privacy and security of your data. Read on to discover how to lock down your Wi-Fi network with the help of our Q&A.

What is Wi-Fi encryption

Encryption prevents anyone without the correct password from joining your Wi-Fi network. Think of it like a scrambled phone line. The data is unintelligible to any computer without the correct key code. However, encryption itself is not security: you need to ensure that the password is also safe. Using encryption with an easily discoverable password is as insecure as not encrypting your data at all.

Why do I need to secure my wireless network? 

Your computer and other devices on your network probably contain sensitive information like bank details, CVs, private letters and so on. Without adequate security anyone could join your wireless network and gain access to this information. Your network also provides access to your internet connection. You can be held responsible for any downloads and online activity through your account, so it's a good idea to prevent strangers from getting access to it.

What methods are there available to secure my network? 

Encryption is the most popular way to secure a network. Once enabled, anyone trying to join will need to supply the correct password to connect to your network. It's not the only method of security though. Most wireless networks broadcast your network’s name – referred to as SSD – so that anyone nearby can see that the network is present, allowing them to easily connect.

Some routers allow you to hide the SSD from being broadcast so that anyone looking for nearby networks simply won't see yours, although if they know what the SSD is they can still connect manually.

Another useful tool is MAC address filtering. All networked devices can be uniquely identified using a special code called their MAC address. Your router may allow you to restrict access to only specific MAC addresses, rejecting connection attempts from unknown devices, which can also be effective (although it’s possible for advanced users to ‘spoof’ MAC addresses to fool the network into letting them join, so it’s not a fail-safe measure).

A combination of these techniques provides the best security but it usually involves some technical knowledge. Encryption is usually adequate and is reasonably easy to apply.

Most routers enable you to change the Wi-Fi password to help tighten your security

How do I secure my Wi-Fi network? 

This will depend on the model of your wireless router , which is often supplied by your internet provider along with its own set of instructions. If you can't find these, check the website of the router manufacturer or your internet provider for instructions.

Most use a simple setup wizard, which you can get to by connecting a computer to the router , using a supplied cable and entering the web address printed on the back of the router into Internet Explorer, such as http://192.168.1.1. When asked for a username and password, enter those printed on the router , if present. Otherwise try entering admin for both. Follow the setup wizard, which will enable you to set a network name and a password.

The setup wizard provided by most routers will guide you through the process of encrypting and securing your network

Is a simple password sufficient? 

Anything that's easily guessed should be ruled out, as it's the equivalent of leaving your key under the doormat. You need a strong password that's made up of a combination of lower and upper case letters and numbers. Many internet providers print a password on the router for you to use. This is safe, as long as you keep the router out of sight of anyone who you want to keep out. Alternatively, consider using the online strong password generator to create one.

Most routers enable you to change the Wi-Fi password to help tighten your security

How do I protect myself on other wireless networks? 

Public wireless networks aren't encrypted and you can't be sure of the security arrangements that are in place. However, you can protect yourself by following the advice we provided on setting up a virtual private network, which prevents others from accessing your computer.