Two Major Vulnerabilities
If you have a Wi-Fi network, you should not let every people off the street use it. That can cause a LOT of problems.
Anyone using your connection appear as YOUR IP address online. That's right... anybody using your network, whether you know it or not, is traced back to you, unless you can prove otherwise.
Also, having an open network also exposes your entire network vulnerable to hackers from the INSIDE, esp. if you left file sharing turned on, or allow your router to be hacked, and so on.
Let us discuss some bad things that can happen to you for NOT securing your wireless access...
Police SWAT Team Breaks Down Your Door
Imagine this... Cops busting in with submachine guns, shove them in your face, tackle you to the floor, wrench your arms behind your back, and handcuff you, for something your neighbor did... "Oops! Wrong house!" The SWAT team was looking for your neighbor, who actually was downloading something VERY VERY illegal... over YOUR network.
Don't think it can happen to you? it happened to Ted Davis of Alva, Florida on 07-OCT-2010. WINK news of Florida reports:
Deputies arrested Candice Miller only after they raided the wrong house. Investigators busted into the neighbors' house suspecting they were sending child porn. Turns out Miller's neighbors didn't secure their wireless Internet connection. Ted Davis says he was thrown to the ground and had his home searched by deputies Tuesday morning. They were looking for his neighbor - Candice Miller.
And this is NOT an isolated incident. In December 2009, a man in Syracuse, New York got a similar visit from the FBI. The real target turned out to be his neighbor.
Similiarly, In March 2011, a man in Buffalo, New York had Federal agents allegedly yelled in his face "You're a creep! Just admit it!" They are looking for someone named "Doldrum" who downloaded a ton of [censored] previous night. This poor guy has an open WiFi connection, and 3 days later police arrested his neighbor, a college kid. (see news report)
Your Identity Can Be Stolen
From As far back as 2005, USA Today have warned that using an open WiFi makes you vulnerable to Identity theft, and with your identity in tow, thieves can impersonate you in variety of activities. Makers of LifeLock ID Protect have even more information on this.
What sort of crime can others commit in your name via your network? Cyberbullying and harassment online leading to death, transmitting child porn, illegal P2P filesharing, and more.
Before you say that could not happen to you, perhaps you should look at some real news items
Record Company Sue You For Millions
RIAA and Virgin Records traced illegal file-sharing to Ms. Marson's computer. So she was sued for a huge amount of money for copyright violations.
This particular case is dismissed by the plaintiffs because the owner of the computer was able to prove that she is not the only one to use the computer, and her Wi-Fi was not secured, and the plaintiff decided that continuing the suit will look very bad... for the plaintiff.
Why get sued in the first place and get blamed for someone else's piracy?
You Are Blamed for Cyberbullying Someone... To Death
Remember the cases where a parent was pretending to be a teen on Facebook, and befriended then ridiculed one of her daughter's classmates into suicide?
Or the more recent case, where two college kids filmed their male roommate meeting a man for the night, and put it on Youtube, leading to the roommate's suicide?
Imagine all that done over YOUR network, so you get blamed for it... Not a pretty image, is it?
Your E-Mail and Other Info Were Picked Up by Anyone Nearby
The Google Streetview vehicles, in addition to capturing views of the streets, also captured a lot of unsecured Wi-Fi traffic as raw data dumps. They were using it to help them locate items, but the data dumps turned up passwords, e-mails, and much more, in a recent investigation.
Google is honest and admit to getting such data, but anybody with a laptop can be reading your wireless traffic now, and they are probably not as honest as Google.
And the software to do so was recently released as a browser add-on. No, I am NOT naming the add-on, but if you look in the news you can find it. Everybody can be reading your login, your e-mail, and do other form of hijacks and online ID thefts VERY soon... UNLESS you secure your Wi-Fi connection.
You May Be Held Liable by the Government
A German court in 2010 ruled that a homeowner is at fault for NOT securing his WiFi connection (which was used by others for illegal P2P filesharing of copyrighted music), and UK may pass laws requiring all to do so soon. US may be next.
So How Do You Secure Wireless Internet Connection?
- Put a passkey on the wireless connection. You do this on both the wi-fi access point, AND the computer, so they can talk to each other. Nobody else can connect to your wi-fi without the passkey.
- Do NOT use any of the default passwords or account names. ALWAYS change them. Default passwords are the first ones hacker will try to access your network.
- Use a "strong" passkey, a combination of upper and lower-case, with some numbers, and if permitted, some punctuation marks, at least 8 characters long. There are other ways to pick passwords, such as a "password card" (see lifehacker link)
- Keep the passkey safely HIDDEN. A passkey that anyone in your room can find is not secret at all.
- Change the passkey periodically, maybe once every few months.
- Change the passkey when something about your network changes. A friend is no longer friend, a computer was added or removed, and so on.
- Use separate logins and passwords for different accounts, else if you lose one password you lose them all.
- Turn OFF SSID broadcast, so Wi-Fi scanners can't pick them up. They'll see a network, but they need to know the SSID before they can even attempt to connect to it.
- Change the SSID every few months, along with passkey changes
- Use the more secure protocol. WPA/WPA2 is more secure than the older WEP.
- Turn on firewall on the router. It won't stop a determined attack, but it should discourage most amateur hackers looking for free connections.
- Make sure all PC's on the network also have firewalls. Windows have a built-in one, and you can download Comodo Firewall and other firewalls free. Even if they manage to get into your network, you don't want them to compromise one of the PC's on your network.
- Limit hours of access, if practical. No reason to have active Internet when you're not home, is there?
- (ADVANCED) If possible, limit the transmitter power in the access point, so the signal does not cover the entire neighborhood, but just your house.
- (ADVANCED) if possible, set up MAC address filtering, but that is complicated and requires some geek knowledge.
Secure That Network!
It takes no more than a few minutes to secure your wireless network, and you can save a LOT of trouble down the line.
Life is complicated already. Don't borrow trouble.
Jimmy Aki on March 08, 2017:
In addition to the points raised, we created a complementing post on 11 ways to secure your wifi network.
Read it here - http://www.reviewdots.com/11-ways-to-secure-your-w...
Tim Anthony on March 20, 2014:
I agree. Network security is a concerning issue. This article is very educational in this sense. It's better that we take precaution with our network devices rather than confronting a terrible situation.
kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on March 24, 2013:
Good point. SSID hiding is to discourage the average freeloading neighbors from trying to leech your network. If your network is static (i.e. don't need to add **** to it all the time, like friends) then hiding SSID is a possibility / additional step. If you do add stuff all the time (another Roku box, another tablet...) then leave SSID on.
It's always a choice between secure vs. convenient. :)
Pat J on March 24, 2013:
i tried to turn off the broadcasting of SSID but my computers and wireless devices won't connect to my wifi router. I had to turn the SSID broadcast back on.
Steve Riley has wrote an article called Myth vs. reality: Wireless SSIDs
someone else also wrote: Debunking Myths: Is Hiding Your Wireless SSID Really More Secure?
Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on November 08, 2012: