We can finally say that wireless networks are the standard for connecting computers now. Wireless network cards are for long a standard laptop built-in accessory. Almost all broadband routers – a peripheral that allows you to share your broadband Internet connection with several computers – come with an antenna for wireless networking, allowing the sharing of your Internet connection not only with computers connected to the router by cable, but also to those that have antennas for wireless network. With the popularization with wireless networks came also the increased number of users being hacked and their connection or even important data being watched and stolen. In this short tutorial we will teach you the basics of wireless networking security: how to change the default router password, how to upgrade the router firmware, how to enable encryption and making sure that you are using the correct kind of encryption.

Broadband routers can be installed very easily. All you have to do is to plug your broadband connection to the connector called WAN and the computers of your home or office to one of the ports called LAN, do a basic configuration for the type of broadband connection that you have (ADSL or cable) and you’re done, everything will be working. If your router has an antenna, the computers in our home or office that have an antenna for wireless networking will be connect to the Internet and your local network will work perfectly too.

And here is the danger. Since nowadays most broadband routers support wireless networking and it comes enabled by default, you will have a wireless network enabled in your office or home even if you are not going to use it! Also, most users get so excited that their wireless connection worked seamlessly that they forget about a very important detail. Each and every computer with antenna for wireless network installed in the area will have access to their network. That includes your neighbor’s computers and those of hackers stalking the data of your network, or at least enjoying the possibility of surfing the web for free (for you are the one who pays the bill). Reports of hackers who walk the streets of the great urban centers carrying their notebooks hunting for wireless networks without any kind of protection are more and more common.

To solve this problem, you need to disabled the wireless networking capability from your router if you are not going to use it or enable encryption, if you are. This configuration must be done both in your wireless router and in the computers that have wireless networking cards that you want to have access to your network and/or your broadband internet connection.

There are several encryption algorithms and methods available, the most commons called WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA-2. The problem is that both WEP and WPA methods proved to be flawed, meaning that if your wireless network is currently configured under any of these modes, it is vulnerable. Worse than knowing that your network is unprotected is thinking that it is protected while it isn’t!

Another problem is that several users forget to change the default password for the control panel for their routers, which is practically the same as leaving the router without any password at all: when a hacker sees a login screen from a router the first thing he will try is the manufacturer’s default password (e.g., “admin” or “administrator”). So you need to change this as well.

In summary, after installing your broadband router, you need to:

  • Change the administrative password.
  • Disable remote management.
  • Upgrade the router firmware to its latest version to make sure it doesn’t have any known flaws.
  • Disable the wireless capability if you are not going to use it.
  • Enable or change to WPA-2 encryption on both your router and on your computers.

Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.