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How to prevent ‘neighbours’ tapping into your wireless network


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Wireless networks are an increasingly common fixture in homes across the country, as they offer the increased flexibility and convenience of being able to access the internet from anywhere in the home. Even businesses are promoting free Wi-Fi as an added feature, which allows anyone close by to access the internet.

While this is a nice perk for the general public, when it comes to your own personal internet connection in your home, it is critical to ensure that not just anyone has access to your network.

Unfortunately, wireless units typically do not come with a security function in place, which leaves a network open and vulnerable to be used by anyone in your home’s proximity. A personal Wi-Fi connection is meant for the sole use of the owners, but too often due to lack of awareness of simple security measures, the wireless network is left open for attack.

Who can access an open network?

Cyber criminals and hackers can easily infiltrate an unsecured network. In fact, there’s a legendary example which dates back to 1996, when an Italian journalist decided to test the security of the average Wi-Fi network. Of those he tried to enter, he had an overwhelming 85% success rate.

Clearly, it’s important to take the proper measures to protect your internet. Even if a neighbour has a similar internet package, they can accidentally use your Wi-Fi or your broadband internet service for free instead of using their own. If you are living in close proximity to many other people – for example, in an apartment building – the risk increases dramatically with each tenant in close proximity.

A well known example of obtaining data from Wi-Fi has been the recent controversy with Google. The Australian Privacy Commission launched an investigation into Google for its data collection through Wi-Fi networks while taking images for mapping service, Street View. Google was able to access the data from unsecured networks.

Protect more than your connection

There are a number of potential problems you should be aware of. How can you stop people stealing your wireless internet? The majority of Wi-Fi services come with standard security settings – the key is being clued in to changing the default settings upon setting up your home network. One of the first things to do is change the password to something unpredictable that only you know. This is a good first step towards protecting your internet.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released a study on the household usage of internet in 2009 which showed that 3% of Australian children who have mobile phones (a total of 28,000) were reported to have experienced a personal safety or security problem through using the internet on their mobile phone. But that’s just the start – protecting your Wi-Fi connection also means protecting all of the devices that access it, including game consoles, mobile phones, televisions and more. If these gadgets are all using the same Wi-Fi system, then they are all equally susceptible to attacks.

By being savvy about making your internet secure, you can avoid ending up with an excess in your bill for internet time you didn’t use. It also ensures your download time doesn’t slow down because multiple users are downloading or using your Wi-Fi at the same time, without your knowledge or consent. Why pay for someone else’s internet surfing time?

Beware hackers “phishing” around

But free access for those close by to your internet connection has much more serious ramifications than an unexpectedly high bill at the end of the month. By gaining access to your network, hackers can potentially reach your computer files and personal information, too, which is a mess that no one wants to have to clean up.

Identity theft, or “cloning,” is one of the most common place crimes to occur on the internet today. Let’s look at one of the average internet surfer’s favourite uses of the web: paying bills or shopping online without ever leaving the house. It’s easy to use your credit card number and a few key personal details to get some basic errands done quickly and conveniently. But is it safe?

One of the most common ways identities are stolen is through a false website called a “phishing” site. Unfortunately, Internet crime is constantly evolving. A decade ago, the main form of sending and receiving viruses was through spam email, luring victims with attention-grabbing subject lines. We’ve all received those unsolicited emails informing you that you’ve been named the lucky winner of thirty million dollars if you would only submit your bank account details to claim the big prize. While we’ve come a long way in terms of becoming savvy to these sorts of rudimentary attempts, the technology behind extracting sensitive information has also become more sophisticated – and continues to develop.

Phishing sites imitate the original website in almost every way: in colour, style and content. It is barely detectable that the website is fake, which is what makes these phishing sites such a danger. As you enter your details into the false site, your personal information is collected by the cyber criminals, which gives them access to the site you intended to use.

Typically, these sites are designed to gain access to and extract your personal details. Email logins, bank details and credit card numbers are all prime targets for cyber criminals who aim to wreak havoc for their own personal gain. Because the phishing sites are often so cleverly disguised, it is important to have protective software which can identify a secure site from a false one, and warn you about it. For example, Trend Micro Internet Security Pro provides cutting edge technology to sieve through the code and identify the good from the bad.

Sensible security measures

Having proper Internet security measures in place can provide you with peace of mind in several important ways. Good software continually runs in the background as your computer is working, quietly but aggressively protecting your computer from viruses which can enter your PC via the internet or an email. It does this is by inspecting each web page in real-time, so it is constantly on alert for incoming threats. This enables the user to navigate away from a false or infected site before entering personal details.

Last year, Peter Dinham of IT Wire highlighted a study which identifies Australia as one of the top ten countries to host phishing attacks. With almost 90% of Australia using the internet on a daily basis, internet security is a valuable investment for every device in the house which uses the internet.

Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security protects your computer from the latest viruses and phishing scams, and also provides automatic updates to ensure your security software is optimized and up to date. The security software helps to prevent unauthorized users from changing your critical applications, without impacting your PC’s performance. The software also automatically prevents suspicious software on USB devices from opening, so you don’t accidentally download a virus from a foreign computer onto your home PC.

Wi-Fi has many advantages, so long as you take the right steps to protecting your connection. It’s important to know what sort of information can be taken from your computer when operating on an unprotected network, and most importantly, stay aware of exactly who should and should not have access.

David Peterson is Volume Products Director at Trend Micro.

Image (home page) by Anders Sandberg

David Peterson is Volume Products Director at Trend Micro.

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