By J. D. Fencer
Computer users are often so excited by the freedom they get with a wireless network that securing it is not their first priority. Some think they’re secure because the latest anti-malware and firewall software is installed on their computer. They seem unaware that, without strong router security, anyone within range could connect to their network. Others appreciate the need for router security, but have no idea how to set it up. This is a pity because it’s not very difficult. In most routers, there are two basic lines of defence: password protected access and media access control (MAC). Password protection allows network access only to users who input the correct password. Media access control restricts access to those computers and peripherals whose wireless network card’s identity is pre-registered with the router. Here’s how to enable both.
Setting up Encryption and Password Protection in four simple steps
- Open your network router’s setup utility. This is accessed via your web browser using a local web address. The exact procedure differs slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it is explained in the router’s setup manual, where the local web address is also given.
- Go to the router’s wireless security settings page. Two types of encryption are common on wireless routers: wired equivalent privacy (WEP) and WiFi protected access (WPA). WEP encryption is an older standard and is regarded as less secure than WPA. Nevertheless, sometimes WEP has to be used because older computers and peripherals don’t all support WPA.
- Select the kind of encryption you want. Both WPA and WEP use password access; this is set up in the router’s security setup page. If you chose WPA, make sure that all your computers can use it; otherwise use WEP. If you choose WEP, you must decide on the length of the password or key as it is sometimes called. It’s more secure to select a higher bit length (there’s usually a choice), and a hex key rather than an ASCII key. Some users select shorter key lengths because they’re easier to remember, though this is not the ideal security practice.
- Make a note of your password; you will need to input it on each computer on the network. Like all passwords, you should plan to change this one frequently.
Setting up Access Control in six simple steps
- Still in the security section of your router’s local website, select the page entitled “Access Control.” When the page opens, you see a table called something like “MAC Address Table,” or “MAC Address Filtering Table.” The table’s fields should be blank, as this is the first time you’ve accessed it.Turn on access control. Usually this is done by either ticking a check box or clicking a button on the Access Control page. If your setup page is different, you may need to refer to the router’s manual.
Some routers allow users to type the MAC addresses into the blank fields on the table; others have a separate section usually just below the main table for entering the information. If you don’t already know the MAC address of each computer’s wireless card, here’s how to find it on a computer that uses the Windows XP operating system. If you already have this information skip to step 2.
- First, ensure that the wireless network connection is enabled on the computer. You can verify this via “Network Connections” in the Windows Control Panel. If the wireless network is marked as “disabled,” right click and enable it.
- Go to the Start menu and select “Run.”
- In the dialog box that opens, type “cmd” (without the quotation marks).
- In the black command window that opens, type “ipconfig/all” (again without the quotation marks) and press Enter. A list appears. At the top of the list is the computer’s name opposite the words “Host Name.” Take a note of the computer’s name. At or near the bottom of the list, under the heading Wireless Network Connection, are the words Physical Address followed by six pairs of alphanumeric characters separated by hyphens. These twelve characters are the wireless card’s MAC address. Take a note of it.
- To leave the command window, type “Exit.”
- Repeat this procedure for each computer that will use the wireless network.
2. On the access control page, type the MAC address into the blank field marked “MAC Address.” Omit any spaces, hyphens, or punctuation mark between the character pairs.
3. In the field beside the MAC names, type the computer’s name.
4. With both pieces of information entered, click the “Add” button to transfer the MAC address to the filtering table. Repeat the process for each computer.
5. When all the MAC addresses and computer names are entered, click “Apply.” This registers the MAC addresses with the router.
6. To activate these new settings, restart the router (some routers restart automatically when MAC addresses are registered).One vital step remains: When these security measures have been set up, each user will be asked for the password the next time he or she tries to connect to the router. The user’s computer will securely record the password, so this needs to be done just once.
With the security enabled, only designated computers using the correct password can access the wireless LAN. It doesn’t mean that a very skilled and determined hacker or a foreign intelligence service couldn’t break into your network, but an unscrupulous neighbor or a nosy passerby with a Smartphone will be kept at bay. If you have the misfortune to live beside an ex-secret agent like Jack Byrnes from “Meet the Fockers,” then you have two choices: be very nice to him, or move. If you value your sanity, call in a professional at this point.