What should I know about wireless security?

I’m visiting home for the holidays for a fairly long amount of time. My dad has cable Internet, which he has hooked up to a wireless hub (or whatever you call them). I’m planning to use my old Powerbook there to connect to my typical online activities (to a much lesser extent, of course, but still).

What should I know about security? Please keep in mind I know nothing about it to begin with, let alone what my dad has set up. I’m not sure he knows what’s important either. Thus, if I should be looking up or asking about anything in particular, please try to make it as clear as possible so I can communicate effectively with my dad.


With any wireless router, it’s pretty easy to set it up for a password. Tell him to set up a password for his home network and then you can use the password to hook into it. Without one, anyone nearby can use the connection and could conceivably hack into a computer on the network. I don’t know much about this kind of thing, but I was able to figure out how to password protect my home network, so that tells you how easy it is.

One thing that I did when I helped set up my parents WiFi hub: I specifically changed the network name, and password, from the factory presets. I don’t know about all manufacturers, but the one my parents got had a ridiculously simple to figure out password as the factory preset.

I figure that 80-90% of the users out there know to change the presets, but… it only takes 10-20% of the users not doing that for hijackers to be able to piggyback on someone else’s WiFi.

There are more involved security measures one can take, of course - including monitoring traffic levels, but I really do think that most piggybackers, at least, are just looking for something easy and free to use.

You don’t work in tech support, do you.
I find your faith in your fellow man very, very sweet, though.

Well, I’ll admit I could well be wrong.

But IMNSHO tech support people make the opposite mistake of assuming that the horror stories they deal with are more representative than they really are. Let’s face it: If the majority of users out there were the sort who provide the fodder for the horror stories tech support people tell - I find it hard to believe that the internet would be even as stable as it is. I don’t know who said it, but there’s the axiom that (paraphrased) 10% of your customers represent 90% of your customer support requirements.

I’m making what seems to me to be a logical estimate. But we all know what logic really is. :wink:

And I have a history of getting set on odd, and logical, definitions. At least when compared to the rest of the world. I used to resist letting people say I was ‘computer literate’ because that always struck me as overstating my ability to make a computer do what I want it to do. To my mind ‘computer literacy’ represents a level of skill that includes being able to edit code, as well as use programs. I can use a computer, and generally get a commercial program to do what I want it to, but I couldn’t write, nor edit, a computer program to save my life. Well, not in any language more sophisticated than PASCAL.

To be reasonably secure you need to enable WPA or WPA2 and use a long key. Use the strongest level supported by the access point and your laptop’s OS.

The method for enabling it will vary depending on the device’s model, but it usually isn’t too hard. Check the manufacturer’s website for a manual.

Use WEP if you can’t use anything else, but be aware that it is easily cracked and will only keep out the most casual of intruders. Other methods such as MAC filtering are ineffectual and more trouble than they’re worth.