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Protect yourself and your Wi-Fi connection

Emma Baker
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Protect yourself and your Wi-Fi connection
Is your Wi-Fi connection protected from unauthorised use?

Is your Wi-Fi signal password protected? If not, you could be opening up your connection — and yourself — to thieves and predators, and you may even find yourself unwittingly drawn into criminal activities.

Malcolm Riddell from Florida, US, found himself at the centre of an FBI child porn raid after his Wi-Fi connection was "stolen" and used to distribute more than 10 million child pornography photographs. FBI agents surrounded Riddell at his home, unaware that the true offender was Mark Brown, hijacking Riddell's Wi-Fi signal from his boat in a marina more than two blocks away.

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Brown was able to easily access Riddell's Wi-Fi signal, because like many Wi-Fi users, he did not password-protect his wireless connection. Riddell was a victim of "wardriving", a practice that commonly refers to someone driving around in a car with a laptop and antenna to find, access, and potentially exploit, a wireless network. In this case, the "wardriving" was done from a boat.

FBI agent, Tom Grasso, warned, "if your signal is 'stolen,' you're not going to see it, you're not going to notice any unusual activity on your computer; it's going to very hard for you to detect."

So, how can you protect yourself? The best mode of defence against unauthorised use of you Wi-Fi signal is to make sure you assign a password to your home network. This will ensure that only people you give the password to will be able to access your connection.

When you're out and about, and making use of legitimate public Wi-Fi networks, the Wi-Fi Alliance offers these tips for protecting yourself and your devices:

Disable sharing

Some Wi-Fi-enabled devices may automatically make themselves available for sharing or connecting with other devices. While file and printer sharing may be common in business and home networks, you can avoid this in public networks.

Configure your devices

Many devices pick-up and automatically connect to open wireless networks. Stop this happening by changing the settings on your devices to request your approval before joining any open network.

Install anti-virus software

There's no way to tell whether other computers on an open wireless network are free from viruses, so it makes sense to have your own antivirus software installed.

Use a personal firewall

When you connect to a public Wi-Fi network you expose yourself to other unknown computers, and as such, unknown risks. A personal firewall program will help minimise these risks and protect your device.

Use common sense

It's fine to use public wireless networks to surf the web or send e-mail, but sensitive tasks such as banking are probably best left until you're at home using your own secure Wi-Fi connection.

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