How to Secure Your Wireless NetworkEstimated time to complete: 30 minutes
You’re wireless! You can now access your e-mail, bank account and school records with freedom, convenience and complete ease…along with any criminal in your neighborhood who has a few Radio Shack gadgets. By default, wireless networks are easy to access—the qualities that make them accessible to you also make them accessible to everyone else. So if you want to take advantage of wireless technology, be smart and secure your network so that you and only you will benefit from it.
The way to do this is to secure your communications by scrambling or encrypting it so no one else can view it. And if you’re going to use a secret language, both you and the person you are communicating with need a way to decipher it. This "secret decoder ring" concept is what is explained here: how to create and give an encryption key to both your laptop and your router so they can talk to each other confidentially.
BEFORE YOU PROCEED:
This example uses the equipment that the vast majority of users will already own or can easily acquire: a laptop with a Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) operating system and a Linksys router (see More Information). Your configuration (and therefore screen shots) may vary, but hopefully, the overall concept and information presented will still provide valuable guidance.
Windows XP SP2
If you are using Windows XP as your operating system, you will need to have Microsoft’s updated patches, Windows XP SP2, installed. Running SP2 is even more important than securing your wireless network as it eliminates identified security vulnerabilities in the system. Also note that these instructions may not work unless you are running SP2.
Step 1: Disconnect from Your Wireless Network
To start this process, first take a step backward: disconnect from the wireless network and use a wired connection instead. You’ll do this because:
The screen shot below shows what the initial network configuration looks like on a Windows laptop computer. To get this view:
The Wireless Network Connection window shows all the connections that are available to your computer, including the wireless systems your neighbors are running at the moment. (Example: funkymonkey).
Note: If you haven’t changed the name of your wireless network, it still has the default name given to it by the manufacturer—in this case, Linksys. Also note that the Linksys connection is unsecured.
Showstopper Alert: Please note that if you get this message instead of one that says Network and Internet Connections, your machine isn’t configured to use built-in Windows Wireless Configuration tools. In this case, you should contact your system manufacturer and ask for instructions for letting Windows manage your wireless network card.
Step 2: Create Encryption Key
Use the Wireless Network Setup Wizard to create the encryption key. From the Network Tasks menu on the Wireless Network Connection dialog:
This Notepad document is the first encryption key. You’ll need this information soon, so minimize his window for now.
Step 3: Share Encryption Key with Your Router
Now that your laptop has created its encryption key, the next step is to tell the router what it is. You can do this by using your browser.
If you see the Basic Setup window similar to the one below, you’re in.
Note: Be sure to click Save Settings on each page.
Note: You will fill in the Linksys fields with information from the Notepad document, but the same things are referred to by different names.
Security Best Practice: Use a unique and robust password for everything that you need to access.
Step 4: Give Your Encryption Key to Your Laptop
The only thing left to do now is tell your laptop that your router is speaking its language.
Step 5: Success
On the Wireless Network Connection page you can see if your network (SOLNET) shows up on the list. Confirm that (WPA) is written after the name of your network. If not, your network isn’t secure. In this case, double-check the settings (SSID, Encryption Key, Authentication type and Data encryption).
Emergency Back-Out Plan
If you’ve given the Windows wireless connection and the router the correct information, Windows should automatically and securely connect. But what if something goes wrong? Here are the steps to take:
Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2): A free update from Microsoft for Windows XP, offering enhancements and better protection against viruses, hackers, and worms.
Router: For this example we suggest a Linksys Wireless Broadband Router (Model #WRT54GS). Linksys wireless routers are extremely popular. Even if you don’t have this exact hardware model, the software used inside the router will be very similar, if not identical.
WPA Encryption: This configuration is called WiFi-Protected Access or WPA. In this configuration, your router essentially password protects and encrypts the signals your computer sends and receives, so that your information can not be read or “sniffed” as it travels
January 17, 2013