Make Sure Your Wireless Network Isn’t A Playground for Hackers

Many offices use wireless networks to improve productivity… but are these networks promoting security too? If there a hole in your network security, this article will help guide you to sealing any potential leaks.

Make Sure Your Wireless Network Isn’t A Playground for Hackers

I’m a geek. It’s a fact. Thankfully, I’m a geek during an era when it’s considered “cool” rather
than a definitive indicator of a “social misfit.” Apparently, in this particular era, it’s especially cool if you are female. I like that, and you will too when you see the ways I’ve found to help save yourself from potential disaster with your wireless network.

I find it amazing how many wide-open networks are available all over the place. These wireless
networks are clearly broadcasting their existence, but not protecting the network from
invasion in any effective way. I’ve noticed it when working on my laptop while my better half
was driving. My computer pops up to announce that this or that network is available and the
signal strength is between “low” and “excellent.” But, I never really investigated because they have a limited range and my husband drives a bit too fast to allow me the option of thorough investigation.

But, today I found myself between appointments with a couple hours to kill and an article to write. So, just out of morbidcuriosity, I drove around my local rural town with my laptop, cruising for open networks. Ittook me less than ten minutes — even in this rural area — to locate one that was completely open.

Real Estate Offices With “Open Doors”

And I must admit, from a couple hours of poking around, I discovered that real estate offices are probably the easiest business targets for a quick “on the fly” Internet connection, second only to home networks. And this alarms me.

Using someone else’s connection is theft. But having an unsecured network requires the same
faith in mankind as putting a hundred dollar bill on the dashboard of your car in the a mall
parking lot, leaving the doors unlocked and expecting it to be there when you return at the
end of the day.

In one instance, a network was open to surfing the net, downloading e-mails, viewing network computers (by name), their shared files, printers, shared resources, etc.

I couldn’t stand it, so I went into one of these local offices to tell them. I identified myself and asked who handled their computer services and networking. Not surprisingly, I was told a “friend” set them up. He, I was told, was a computer wiz.

“Uh-huh,” I thought, “but not a security wiz.”

When I told them that they were running their wireless network “wide open” they told me,
“yeah, we know, but you can’t get past the main machine, you can’t get past our firewall.” I
told them that, actually, I could – and that I not only had access to some of their files and
their shared resources, but that I also had information about their network and the computers. This included the names of the computers and how they were connected and that the computers were automatically (rather than statically) assigned to the network and that I
was actually on their network at that moment.

He appeared suspicious – like I’d just handed him a crumpled up brown paper bag and said “Go
ahead, open it, I dare you.”

So I told him that I was doing a little survey and that real estate agencies, in particular, seemed to be at an elevated risk for unsecured wireless networks. I told him that I just thought he might want to know. He looked at me like I’d just fallen off the planet Mars – as did the other two agents in the office.

I told him it was dangerous to run a network like that these days. He never asked me how to
secure it; he never asked me anything. There was a long, pregnant pause. Dead silence. I guess he assumed I was selling something – probably something vile, based on his expression. He thanked me, nodding slightly and waited for me to leave. So, I left.

My point is: Most laptops on the market now are wireless enabled, so anyone with one of
these machines and a malicious intent can drive around in the safety of their car and hack to
their heart’s content. It means that sometimes it doesn’t even require a car. In a subdivision,
you can have three or four wireless networks available sitting in your own home, on your own
laptop.

Ignorance Is NOT Bliss When You Get Hacked

Now, maybe you don’t care. Maybe your files aren’t confidential and someone hacking into
your systems and destroying your ability to use them properly is not a showstopper for you. For
me, it would be. Losing my system would shut me down. My computer is my primary business tool, so I run 128-bit encryption on my wireless router in addition to an excellent software
firewall on each machine connected. Call me paranoid.

I believe that one of the reasons that real estate agencies were so often running open
networks (at least in this area of the country) is because brokers are more likely to use
up-to-date technology than other small businesses – but are not necessarily more likely
to understand the security concerns related to the use of that technology.

If your network is wide open, CLOSE it. If you don’t KNOW if your network is open, ask
someone who does. It only takes a few moments to set an encryption key. And that makes it much more difficult to become a victim.

No, your business isn’t computers, it’s real estate — but your business probably relies on
computers. And if your office is technically advanced enough to implement a wireless network,
chances are you rely on computers heavily.

How To Get Wireless Savvy Fast

If you want a quick tutorial on how to secure your wireless network with WEP (Wireless
Encryption Protocol), visit one of my favorite “tech talk in simple terms” sites: PracticallyNetworked.com.

Want an “overview” article in order to get a better grasp on why this is important? Visit
this resource at GovernmentSecurity.org.

Or, probably the quickest way to get secure or double-check your security (just in case I’ve
succeeded in making you paranoid too) is to refer to the website for your particular wireless router for more security information.

If you don’t “know” computers, and don’t want to learn, hire someone who does. A small
investment now may save you thousands of dollars in trying to recover from someone’s idea of “big fun” at your expense. Keep your files private, keep your network secure, and keep the
information that helps you hone your edge in YOUR office – out of the hands of others.

© Copyright 2005 by Angela Allen Parker of Wicked Wordcraft

This article first appeared in the March 2005 “Word Magic” column at www.epowernews.com.

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