Protect Your Wireless Network

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I recently saw several news articles online about drive-by pharming. Researchers posted a proof of concept online and the attack is made possible by the fact that so many people use their routers with the default passwords on. Because of the nature of my work, friends often ask me how they could secure their home networks or how they could set-up wireless at home. To them I offer the following advice (just sharing here) :
  • Change the router's default username and password - this should be the first thing anyone should do. As indicated in the news article I linked to above, you'd be securing yourself from a lot of exploits just by changing your password. Router defaults are well-documented in user manuals and help forums online. Anything from default passwords to factory settings can be found online. Even lesser known models will have some obscure user documenting his use of it somewhere in the vast Internet. So change the default password 'admin' on that WRT54G, right now.
  • Change the router's SSID - a brand name is a start. These default SSID names are well-documented online. Once snoops know what router your using, they could choose the best attack to speed up breaking into your network.
  • Disable SSID broadcasts - don't advertise your network to the neighbors. Routers with SSID broadcast turned on inform every computer or wireless device nearby that your router is there. Piggybacking on your connection is just one concern. What if they're bright enough to break into your network and snoop on your computer? If its there, with big signs and bright lights, its bound to catch some bad guy's attention.
  • Turn on the firewall - when you set your router up, it will in most cases ask that you set rules for your firewall. Routers are great firewalls because they're "dumb". They don't reply to strangers knocking on the door. If some other computer on the Net wanted to connect to yours, the router simply ignores the request if it were unexpected and doesn't reply back. The effect is the other computer will think nothing is there.
  • Use WPA-PSK, not WEP - WPA-PSK is quite a common feature now in wireless routers. WEP is older and easier to hack into. WPA2 only comes in the newer (and more expensive) routers. So right now WPA-PSK is the best choice. How to use it? Go to this Windows guide, a bit old but the basics are still the same. For Ubuntu, the Ubuntu Guide provides a kernel of wisdom in that direction. One additional piece of advice I can give is to use a Pre-Shared Key by generating a random one from This page generates very strong random passwords that you can use on your router. I use the 63-character printable ASCII set because that's what most routers (I've tinkered with) accept. Note: the more random it is, the harder it is to crack it.
These are not professional grade tips but rather lessons I've learned while tinkering. I hope they prove as helpful to you as they have been to my friends. :-)


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