In North America, 78.6 per cent of people have Internet at home. How many Internet connections are essentially open windows into these homes.
Wireless Internet usage in business and at home has exploded. It’s at the coffee shop, the library, school and in many downtown centres. Even at home, the number of devices we have connected to our Internet is increasing. From smart phones, laptops, tablet devices and more.
Most of us have heard of the dangers of leaving our wireless connections unsecured.
The worst case scenarios involve someone outside your home using your Internet for illegal activities. These activities, if tracked, can lead law enforcement to your home, not the person using your Internet uninvited. An often referenced case had a person in the United States arrested on child pornography charges when special investigators traced material to the suspect’s home. While eventually cleared of wrongdoing, I am sure the homeowner did not enjoy the experience.
At the very least, you can be concerned about strangers using up your bandwidth. Which is the amount of data you are allowed to send and receive through your Internet service provider (ISP) each month. Your neighbour may be downloading a lot of movies at your expense.
Finally, right in between the other examples, is your personal data. Once someone is on your home network, the possibilities of identity theft and other data leakage become very real.
To make matters worse, people who keep open wireless Internet in most cases will not even know when someone else is piggybacking on the signal, which can reach over 400 feet. One clue can be a sudden slowness you notice in your signal.
There is a law in Canada (Section 342.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada) against “unauthorized access … to computer systems” that can be applied to using someone’s wireless Internet, even if it does not have a password. It is very seldom pursued, but other countries are taking this very seriously, even debating minimum sentences of two years for offenders.
Just because a house is unlocked does not mean that you won’t be charged with breaking and entering if you go inside. The same goes for wireless Internet.
Ok, so we are all in agreement? Leaving our wireless routers without a password is bad. What do we do?
For the average user, once properly frightened into considering security, they resort to the manual that came with the router. Look at that ... a few easy steps to set up a password, awesome.
Happy to have done their part to secure the digital frontier, the average user goes on about their daily business. It’s too bad no one mentioned that the most popular encryption for home networks is the laughing stock of the information technology (IT) community. For years the standard for the average user has been wired equivalent privacy (WEP). It is unfortunate this option even exists anymore. WEP was introduced in 1999 and 13 years is a lifetime on the Internet.
I have a lot of friends in the IT industry. One such friend, let’s call him Frank, decided to prove to me how useless WEP security really is. We sat at a local business where Internet was provided. The password was prominently posted on the wall. Frank says, “don’t tell me the password, give me five minutes”.
No more than 10 minutes after starting up his 13 inch laptop, Frank proudly announced his “guess.”
Would you like to take bets on whether Frank was right? Or better, would you be comfortable with the knowledge to do what Frank did is freely available all over the Internet?
An old network friend of mine used to say, “the only computer 100 per cent safe from Internet hacking is one that’s not plugged in.”
Fair enough, but we should at least take the care to make it at least a little difficult.
I wouldn’t be too proud to ask for help on this issue. Security is a fast moving game and the stakes are no less than your data and your identity.
Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.