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Is your WiFi protected?

Nov 09, 2015 10:02AM ● By Bryan Scott

by Jarin Blackham

My  first experience with electronic communication was as a teenager when a friend suggested I try out Lower Lights, a bulletin board system, or BBS.  Bulletin Boards were one of the first social media platforms.  The Lower Lights BBS was the largest chat-oriented BBS in Utah(1), and while I was a member, up to 24 people could dial in simultaneously to chat and transmit messages.

A few years later, In 1996, my mother was working from home as an executive director for a local organization. As part of her job, she needed to send and receive email, which required a link to the internet.  At the time, internet connections were “dial up” and used a modem connected to a standard phone line.  We reached speeds of up to 28.8 Kilobits per second (Kbps).  Business websites were static, containing only basic information and low quality pictures.  Communication using email and chat were common, and voice communication over the internet was just beginning.  

Since that time, internet speeds and bandwidth have dramatically increased, instant video communication allows us to connect to people around the world, and has even changed the way we do business and use entertainment.  Now, nearly all homes have a connection to the internet through a phone line, dedicated copper or fiber connection, or through a cell phone.  Nearly every internet connected device sold is equipped with a wireless connection, capable of linking to the world wide web.

In homes with a copper or fiber connection, for convenience, a wireless access point is used to connect WiFi devices to the home network.  While connections like copper or fiber require a physical connection and can be contained within your home, a wireless connection passes through walls and can reach distances around your home, up to 2 or 3 blocks away.  

When wireless signals reach areas outside your home, anyone with a laptop or cell phone near your property could connect to your wireless access point, with access to your home network.  You may think: That’s not a problem, I don’t mind sharing my internet connection with neighbors.  If your WiFi is open, without protection, ANYONE can connect to it.  Once connected, they could collect information from your computers, see where you go on the internet, or even use your internet connection for illegal activity.

In Buffalo, New York, a man and his wife woke up to someone breaking in their back door.  Federal agents swarmed in and accused the man of distributing child pornography.  The investigators took the man’s computer and his wife’s iPad.  After a couple of days, his innocence was determined and a neighbor was arrested a couple of days later.  The neighbor had connected to the homeowner’s unprotected wireless network to send and receive illegal material.  This activity was traced to the homeowner’s internet connection – making him look like the criminal. (2)

By leaving your wireless network unsecure, you open the door to bad guys using your name to carry out illegal activity.   Think of it this way…. Would you give your house key to every person that passes in front of your house?  If not, then why would you allow them to connect to your home network?  

Most new wireless access points and routers come with protection (passwords and encryption) turned on by default.  Many older routers were sold with open and unprotected wireless connections.  Check your WiFi devices to ensure that you have the best security available.  If you’re unsure how to do this, find someone you trust that knows about wireless protection.  

Almost everything we do today touches the internet in one form or another.   The more we use the internet, The more our personal information is at risk.  By securing our wireless connections, we increase protection of our identity, our online bank accounts, and our character.