Stopping strangers from stealing your WiFi


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Whenever the topic of Wi-Fi security comes up, we think of a password to keep Bob from next door away from consuming our bandwidth. But is that all there is to it – restricting others from using our Wi-Fi? The answer is a big NO!

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Advancement in technology is significantly changing our lifestyle. People are spending way more time poking into Amazon to find that sweet deal on a nice pair of Chukkas or finding Black Friday deals on the Best Buy website rather than crashing doors.

Banks are moving towards a paperless future and are emphasizing on online banking. All these are increasing the transfer of banking credentials over the internet. A well-protected Wi-Fi can save you big time, by keeping potential threats away from fishing your credentials.

A breached Wi-Fi can also expose any security cameras that you have connected to the Wi-Fi.  Cyber crimes committed through your unsecured access point can cost you some time with the local police or even worse.

So if you care about these or any other threats that a breach in your wireless network can bring, you should consider spending some time to get to know your router, and what you can do to improve its security.

Since the 1990s many changes and advancements have been made to enhance the security of wireless networks. Your average router in 2018 should have 4 basic security protocols:

1) Open: No security

2) WEP: Low security

3) WPA: Medium security

4) WPA2: High security

Info on the WiFi types:

WEP: In 1999 WEP(Wireless Equivalent Privacy) was approved as the security standard for Wi-Fi. But due to various vulnerabilities, it was abandoned by the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2004. If you have any old device that supports only WEP (which is highly unlikely) you should consider doing an upgrade or replacing the device.

As the computing power of modern devices has increased many folds since WEP was established, people can easily brute-force their way through WEP security. One could easily hack your WEP security by collecting packets of data sent between your router and device and then using a tool to crack the password. Upgrading to WPA or WPA2 is the only way to prevent this.

WPA: WPA(Wi-Fi Protected Access) was used as the temporary successor of WEP when the WPA2 protocol was being developed. WPA was made from modifications and enhancements over WEP. It introduced much longer encryption keys compared to WEP and enhanced security through the use of Temporal Key Integrity Protocol(TKIP).

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WPA2: WPA2(Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) is the most advanced type of security protocol approved for Wi-Fi. It introduces two stronger encryption and authentication mechanisms, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and Counter Mode with Cipher Block Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol (CCMP). TKIP is kept as backup for devices that don’t support CCMP.

Caution

Typically, WPA and WPA2 are really hard to breach. If anyone has a weak password then a hacker can brute force his way with a password file. Lists of common password variations and default credentials are also available on the internet.

Some devices without a WPS button but with WPS support will ask for this pin

This method of brute forcing is time-consuming. So a more complex password would take way longer and some serious computing power to crack. And by way longer, I mean about hundreds of years to crack a 12 character password encrypted with AES, with the help of a modern day to day computer.

But if you have WPS turned on (which most people do not care about), then your Wi-Fi can become as vulnerable as one with a WEP encryption protocol. You can connect to a WPS enabled router by pressing the small button at the back of the router or by putting in an eight digit pin.

Some devices without a WPS button but with WPS support will ask for this pin. Having these features turned on can ease the process of connecting to Wi-Fi but can cause some serious threats. So make sure to turn off WPS unless you really need it.

PRO TIP:

Most people do not turn off WPS in their home Wi-Fi or simply don’t care or know about it. So, if you are at your friend’s place for a party and don’t want to be another guy to ask for the Wi-Fi password, you can press the WPS button on the back of the router and connect your device. Of course, if you know that your friend is okay with sharing the Wi-Fi!

Regardless of what measures you take, nothing can be as safe as a wired connection. So, if you are really serious about your security and don’t want to take any risks, your best bet would be to use a wired connection.

But a WPA2 security with a decent password and WPS turned off, is good enough for most people. Lastly, you should make sure that you trust the person or corporation providing the access point for your internet. Else, all the hard work you put into securing your network would be in vain.

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Acknowledgements:

  1.  https://www.wi-fi.org     
  2.  http://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/feature/Wireless-encryption-basics-Understanding-WEP-WPA-and-WPA2

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Author

Sk Farhad Siddique

Sk Farhad Siddique completed his high school from Jhenidah Cadet College and is a freshman at the University of Toronto. He has an interest in gadgets, enjoys meddling with the internet and likes to think of himself as a tech aficionado.One life advice he values highly – “Take everything with a pinch of salt, it’s the best strategy to get THERE.”
Sk Farhad Siddique

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