Tech Tips

Contact Brian Gongol with questions
Return to the main menu of tech tips
Go to Brian Gongol's homepage

Thoughts on home network security

Answered October 28, 2012

If you're like many (or even most) households, you probably have a wireless router serving up your Internet connection to a whole host of devices inside your house -- from laptops and tablets and smartphones to DVRs, televisions, and even thermostats (if you're that excited about technology).

But have you done enough good housekeeping on your home network? Here's a quick set of questions:

1. Is your network properly secured? From my living room, I can pick up signals from 23 different wireless networks -- and that's in a neighborhood of single-family homes. With townhomes, condos, or apartments nearby, that number could easily go much higher. 20 of those networks are password-protected...but three aren't. That's a 13% failure rate. Adding a password to your household network is free, easy, and essential.

2. Does your network have a name that's unique, but not too personal? Keeping the network name that came with your router in the first place (like "Belkin" or "MyQwest") tells anyone nearby that you probably haven't done much to protect your network or the computers on it. But giving it your own last name or street address is probably a little too personal. Remember...I can pick up nearly two dozen networks just from my house. I don't know all the owners, and I don't necessarily need them knowing me. Name your network after something memorable for *you*, but not too a favorite movie character or a vacation spot.

3. Is your router still running on WEP security? Without getting into the technical details, you should use one of the WPA security options instead of WEP...they're newer and more secure. If your router is so old that it doesn't offer a WPA security option, it's time to get a new one. Remember: W-E-P has been W-I-P-E-D out.

4. Have you plugged in a computer and checked the firmware for your router lately? It's easy to forget, but just like programs come out with updates, so too do the manufacturers update the internal programs that run hardware like your router...and those updates can make it run better and improve your security, so take a few minutes and check for a firmware update.

The more wireless technology liberates our computers and other devices from their cords and cables, the more important it is to make sure we use them securely.