How to protect your Wi-Fi network

When 21-year-old Notre Dame de Grace resident Amber Hunter received her last Internet bill from Videotron, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She had been charged $1,800 in “overage” fees. It turned out that some unidentified persons within close range of her apartment at the  residential neighbourhood of Montreal had hacked their way into her Internet connection.  Somehow Hunter didn’t notice it for a long time and became accustomed to paying her usual broadband bill plus the $50 maximum penalty charged for her “overuse”. But after Amber switched plans as counseled by a Videotron representative who suggested that a higher usage allowance plan might lower her costs, her broadband bill exploded.  Now the waitress hands over most of her weekly salary to Videotron.

“I’m a student, and I work at a bar, and now most of the money I have goes to pay my Internet bill,” Hunter told the Montreal Gazette. “It’s more than I pay for school and books, and I don’t have a lot of money left for food.”

This is just one case that has surfaced to public light, but you can bet this is happening all the time. There are many networks open and out of the ones encrypted only a small percentage is using WPA2. Freely available software, such as Aircrack-ng, allows you to break into non-WPA2 connections in a matter of minutes. With an estimated 201 million households using Wi-Fi networks and as many as 750,000 Wi-Fi hotspots available worldwide, Wi-Fi security is not to be taken lightly.

It’s not only cyber-criminals that are after your waves, but a third of normal, “honest” people as well. In a recent poll conducted by Wakefield Research in conjunction with Wi-Fi Alliance, 32 percent of respondents said they have tried to get on a Wi-Fi network that wasn’t theirs. The poll was conducted among 1,054 Americans ages 18+between December 10th and December 16th, 2010. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the average total U.S. population aged 18 and older.

“Most consumers know that leaving their Wi-Fi network open is not a good thing, but the reality is that many have not taken the steps to protect themselves,” said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director for the Wi-Fi Alliance. “Consumers can usually activate Wi-Fi security protections in a few simple steps, but much like the seatbelts in your car, it won’t protect you unless you use it.”

And you can safely assume that the percentage is likely to be much higher in Canada, due to regulations that allow Bell and other big telecom companies to charge Canadians by the byte, in what is known as usage-based billing (UBB). You can read more about it here: Why a Metered Internet for Canada is a Bad Idea

Below are a few key things that Wi-Fi users can do to secure their Wi-Fi devices and personal data:

  1. Set home Wi-Fi networks for WPA2™ security – Wi-Fi Protected Access® 2 (WPA2) is the latest in network security technology. It controls who connects to the network and encrypts data for privacy. It is important to note that the security level of a home network is determined by the least capable device and many devices ship with security options disabled as the default. For the most up-to-date protection, a network should include only products capable of WPA2 security.
  2. Look for Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ products – Wi-Fi CERTIFIED devices are required to implement WPA2 security.
  3. Look for devices with Wi-Fi Protected Setup™ – With an action as simple as the push of a button, new devices can be added to an existing network securely.
  4. Create strong passwords – Ensure that your network password is at least 8 characters long, does not include any dictionary words or personal information, and is a mix of upper and lower case letters and symbols. A tip that might make password management easier is to create an acronym from easy-to-remember phrases. For example, “my daughter’s birthday is July 7, 1987? could become the password “MDBi7787.”
  5. Be smart about hotspot use – Most public hotspots leave security protections turned off, so while connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot is great for general internet surfing, users should not transmit sensitive data, such as bank account login information.
  6. Turn off automatic connecting – Many products such as mobile phones and notebooks are set by default to sense and automatically connect to any available wireless signal. Users should turn off automatic connecting and only connect to and from networks and devices they are familiar with.

For more information please visit the Wi-Fi Alliance, a global non-profit industry association of hundreds of leading companies devoted to the proliferation of Wi-Fi technology across devices and market segments.

They provide in-depth information regarding security at:
www.wi-fi.org/security

Consumers can easily search for Wi-Fi CERTIFIED products  to find devices with the latest security protections at:
www.wi-fi.org/search_products.php