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How To Avoid Freeloaders On Your Wireless Network

How To Avoid Freeloaders On Your Wireless Network

Whenever I am browsing various tech forums, blogs and sites, I continually see all these posts and articles about securing your wireless network.

One thing that constantly aggravates me is when people claim that if you follow these steps no one will be able to get into your network.

When I read this I always think of something my father always used to say, “Locks are made for honest people.”  If a hacker with the right skill-set wants to get into your network, they will find a way to get in.

I'm going to explain how to avoid freeloaders on your wireless network and why it's important...

Disclaimer: I am not going to make you promises that if you follow these instructions no one will ever be able to get into your network.   These are some suggestions and techniques that I use to make it more difficult for the casual and even some of the more advanced freeloaders to connect to my network. 

I can’t give you step by step instructions because every router manufacturer’s software is different, so I am going to concentrate more on techniques than directions.

Identifying a Freeloader on Your Network

For starters let’s talk about how to tell if someone is actually freeloading on your network.  A lot of people think when their connection is slow someone is freeloading on their network.

This isn't always true because your ISP could be throttling down on your connection, you could have a weak connection to your router, or any number of a dozen other reasons for a slow connection.

The easiest way to check is to go into the admin panel on your router and go to the section marked DHCP.  This is the service on your router that assigns IP addresses to each of the machines on your network.

You should be able to see a list of the current IP leases and this should include the names, mac address and IP address for each device on your network.

Now you should be able to tell by the device names which devices belong to you and which don’t.  So if you see a system named BILLY and you do not have a device with that name, it is safe to say you have a freeloader.

Securing Your Network

Now if you currently do not have the security setup on your wireless router, you need to set this up.   Lots of people I talk to are always afraid of messing with the security settings on their router.

By default, a lot of routers do not have the security configured out of the box and if you received the wireless router from your ISP, I wouldn't trust their security settings.

Once again, I am just going to give suggestions and you need to refer your router’s manufacturer for step by step instructions.  The easiest way to do this is just search their support forums or even just search Google with the router’s manufacturer and model number and what you are trying to do. You can usually find dozens sites with instructions on how to configure your router.

If your router supports WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), I would disable it.  Some people may disagree with this but I have seen and used utilities that are downloadable from the web that can crack the security on your router through the WPS service.

Next, you need to actually secure the network.  These settings are usually under wireless security in the menus.  I suggest setting the encryption to WPA2 because the WEP and the original WPA encryption algorithms are more easily cracked than the newer WPA2.

Some routers will list WPA2 with options for Enterprise and Personal.  Unless you have a RADIUS server in your network, select Personal.  This will require you to select a passphrase as the key to your network.

Passphrase Strategies That Prevent Most Wireless Network Freeloading

To create a solid passphrase, I suggest using something that consists of multiple words, numbers and capitals letters.  For example, instead of using a passphrase like 'mykey,' you should use 'MykEy23452.'

The reason behind this is that you need to have something that is not easily guessed, so stay away from anything related to you or your address as well as anything that is in the dictionary.

You should avoid words found in the dictionary because the easiest way to crack the key is with a brute force attack which will start off by trying every word in the dictionary as well as every proper name before it starts just randomly guessing.

So based on this, the shorter and less complex passphrases will get cracked easier.  My key is a combination of several words and numbers and is about 23 characters long.

The last time I ran it through a password cracker it took almost a week before it cracked it.  Most freeloaders aren't going to stay around that long.

Set Up a Guest Passphrase

Another good habit to get into is to sporadically change the passphrase on your network.  Whenever I had a big party or BBQ, I used to change the passphrase to something easy and then change it back after everyone went home.

Recently, I upgraded to an Amped Wireless router that allows you to run a guest network outside of your main network.  So now I just turn on the guest network when I have a party.  Either way, I change the passphrase at least once a year just in case.

Why You Should Keep Your Wireless Network Secure

Some people think, "Why should I bother?" and "This seems like a lot of work so why should I do it?"  They will say, "What could possibly happen?"

Well for starters, if someone can connect to your network they can access any device on your network and steal information from your computer.  So if you do online banking or store any of your personal information on your computer, they can steal your identity.

Another problem you can run into is with someone using your internet connection for something illegal.  A couple of years ago, a friend of mine told me about his cousin getting arrested.  The story being that one of his neighbors was using his wireless network to share child pornography.

Needless to say after a weekend in a holding cell, he decided it was time to secure his network.

By Al LaPeter

Al LaPeter on Google+

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