Wi-Fi safety

Wi-Fi is Internet access without the hassle of wires! Wi-Fi is a radio signal that transmits digital data between your computer and smartphone, and the cable or DSL modem providing Internet service to your home or office. Since Wi-Fi is a radio signal, anyone within range of that signal can detect it and, if the Wi-Fi system is unprotected, can join the network or spy on the data going back and forth over the signal. In this module we’ll talk about safety issues with Wi-Fi, both in configuring your own system and safety when using public Wi-Fi hotspots.

What are threats to home Wi-Fi security?

Home Wi-Fi security has improved greatly over the past several years. Here is what to look out for in your system.

  • WPA2 or WP3 security. Make sure that your Wi-Fi router is capable of and set to WPA2 or WPA3 security. Earlier security protocols, especially the outdated WEP security setting, is totally useless and can easily be hacked.
  • Administrative passwords. Some routers come with default usernames and passwords like “default” or “admin.” Change your username and password to something strong and unique.
  • Wi-Fi name (SSID). You can change the default name of your Wi-Fi network. Choose something that doesn’t identify your network to anyone driving by. Using your family name, for instance, makes it just that much easier for someone to know, from the street in front of your house, who the network belongs to.
  • Use your guest account feature. Many routers come with a guest account option. Enable the guest account and give it a different password than your main account. Now you can permit guests to use your Wi-Fi without sacrificing your privacy.

Public Wi-Fi safety

Public Wi-Fi, also called access points or hot spots, keeps us connected when on the go. But there are risks associated with public Wi-Fi. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Rogue access points. Anyone can create an access point and name it anything. Hackers can easily go to a business and create a Wi-Fi hotspot and name it “Free public Wi-Fi” or even use the name of the business. Check with the business for the real name and any password that you need to connect.
  • Public Wi-Fi, even with a “password” is not private. A password at the cafe or hotel is not an indication of privacy. Assume that any other patron or hotel guest can detect your device on the network.
  • Don’t bank on it. Although an encrypted https connection is secure (with the lock icon in the browser address bar), it’s best, if possible, to wait until you are on your own secure network before banking, shopping, or signing into any sensitive sites.
  • Stick with “https” secure connections. Look for the lock icon in your browser window that indicates a secure (https) connection. Others on the network may be able to see what sites you are connecting to, but not the content of the communication.
  • Don’t allow other devices to see or connect with you. When you connect to a network, your device may ask you if you are connecting to a public network or a private network. Always choose public and deny any request to allow other devices to discover you on the network.
  • Make sure your software and anti-virus are up-to-date. Your first line of defense against intrusion attacks and malware is always your anti-virus software and apps that are patched with the latest security updates.
  • Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). VPNs are the best answer to on-the-go security. A VPN hides all of your activity. Consider the nominal cost of an annual subscription against the cost of identity theft or a breach into your bank account. Some anti-virus apps come with VPN as a bonus.
  • Don’t download anything required by the network. Rouge networks may be used to download malware to your device. If connecting requires a download, say no. Wi-Fi does not require additional downloads to work.
  • Your email will be saved (most likely!). Lots of businesses ask for your email in order to connect. Chances are the information will be used to track you as a customer and market to you.

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1. Wi-Fi is a radio signal that can be “seen” by anyone within range
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