Monday, July 28, 2008
Is anyone using your wireless network?
2008 witnessed a huge growth in the number of "Wi-fi" wireless networks and laptops in India. Wi-fi and laptops enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Wi-fi has made the laptop truly portable, bringing it the network without any wires. And thanks to a growing number of laptop toters, many businesses like hotels, coffee shops, bookstores and others offer Wi-fi Internet access to attract them.
Broadband Internet service has catalysed the growth of Wi-fi. BSNL and Airtel offer Wi-fi enabled DSL routers. Wi-fi technology is mature, standardized under what are called "IEEE 802.11" standards, and as a result cheap. Wi-fi routers are available for as low as Rs. 4000. All laptops have Wi-fi networking built in. Getting connected to a wireless network takes less than two minutes.
But wait, aren't we forgetting something? Your neighbour can also connect to your wireless network in less than two minutes! Is your wireless network secure? Last week's TOI article on war driving (http://tinyurl.com/toi16july) drew your attention to the dangers of insecure wireless networks. In 2005, U.S. garment retailer T.J.Maxx suffered the largest transaction theft in history thanks to an insecure wireless network in one of its stores. The damage exceeded USD 500 million and affected 100 million customer accounts. More details on http://tinyurl.com/tjxbreach.
During my interview with TOI on "war driving", I was asked: "Is Wi-fi always insecure?". Certainly not. Wireless networks can be secured with a few easy steps. However, it is the owners' responsibility to lock their "wireless doors". If you own a Wi-fi router or modem, follow these two steps to protect against cyber trespassers.
1. Enable Wi-fi encryption. Every wireless router supports encrypted communication. It is called Wi-fi Protected Access (WPA). WPA encrypts all communication on the wireless network. Only those with a valid WPA key can access your network.
2. Set up your WPA keys. A WPA key is like a password. Share it with those whom you want to allow on your network, just as you share house keys among family members. All laptops need to supply this key when connecting to your wireless network for the first time. The key is saved in the laptop's settings and used automatically when needed. And remember my advice for choosing good passwords!
Two excellent tutorials can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/wifisecurity1 and http://tinyurl.com/wifisecurity2. Owners of a BSNL Wi-fi modem can find help at http://tinyurl.com/bsnlwifi.
Published: Times of India, Ahmedabad, 26-Jul-08