Protecting Your Home Wi-Fi Network

By: Jason Colthorp Email
By: Jason Colthorp Email

It's a crime that starts with your laptop computer. You also buy the wireless hookup so you can get Internet anywhere in the house. What you don't do is worry about who else could be getting into your network.

What happens is someone drives around fishing for open wireless networks in neighborhoods just like yours.

They call it wardriving. WAR is an acronym for wireless access reconnaissance. Wardriving comes from the movie "WarGames" where Matthew Broderick's character uses a phone to dial for open networks. That was called wardialing. Because crooks now use their car, it's called wardriving.

Our computer expert, who would rather remain anonymous, knows just how easy wardriving is for computer criminals.

"It's incredibly easy."

"They just use their laptop and drive around to common places like apartment complexes and student neighborhoods looking for open access points or passwords that would be easy to get break."

Police say when your network is compromised it's not like giving your keys to the bad guys-- it's like leaving the front door to your home wide open. Wide open to your passwords and your money. And that's not even the worst part.

What's the best way hackers can protect themselves? By hiding the evidence. And your computer has now become the perfect place to stash their criminal activity-- and yes-- get you arrested.

"Imagine being an innocent bystander and a criminal stashing his or her criminal activity on your computer," says Detective/Sergeant Jay Poupard of the Michigan State Police Internet Crimes Unit.

That unit has investigated cases just like that-- child pornography on the computer and the owner has no clue until the police show up at their door.

Just having child porn on your computer is a four-year felony per image.
Receiving or distributing can land you in prison for 7-10 years.

And remember-- you're an innocent victim.

So how easy is it really for hackers when they go out wardriving?

We checked a bunch of neighborhoods with our computer expert and found out it's very easy-- especially when people don't even protect their network with a password.

"There's one. There's two," alerts our expert. "You can find at least one or two at every spot that are wide open."

The title of some networks were actually the person's address. We asked one man at the address listed about that since his network was also unsecured. He said he trusts his neighbors but had never heard of wardriving.

"I guess I never thought of someone sitting in a van with illicit intent," says the man who remained anonymous. "I guess I'll go back and put in my security code."

While every neighborhood had some open networks-- the majority were password protected. Our computer expert checked to see how strong they were.

"Got it."

In five minutes at an apartment complex, our expert is able to crack three passwords and get total access.

"Ninety percent of passwords are too easy," he says. "People use their addresses, their pets' names, their kids names or even simple numerical codes."

"They're too easy for somebody to break and be able to log-in."

So how can you make sure nothing like this happens to you?

Follow the step-by-step instructions on your wireless device when setting it up. You can uncheck the SSID broadcast box and make your network invisible. You also should change the name of the network and choose a tough password according to Poupard.

If you lose the directions or manual, just Google the manufacturer for another and follow the steps so you don't become a victim of wardriving.

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