Special Feature: Is Your Home Wireless Network Cybercrime Safe?

This is the first in a series of articles designed to provide Clarke Daily News readers with a better understanding of cybercrime and how to avoid falling prey to this growing and malicious threat.

By Rob Spitler, Clarke County Sheriff’s Office

Computer crime and cyber terrorism are growing threats not only in this country, but in your neighborhood as well.   Securing the wireless network in your home is important for the safety of you, your family, community, and county.

Ever noticed when you turn on a wireless device that there are, at times, more than one wireless access point available to connect to?  Were they begging you to join?  What happens if you do join someone else’s network, or even still what happens when someone else joins yours?

Let’s first take a look at you connecting to their network; often referred to as “piggybacking.”  Depending on the state or jurisdiction and what occurs while you are on the network it may also be known as Theft of Computer Services.  This occurs when someone obtains computer services without authority, in other words using someone’s internet without paying or having permission. The Virginia Computer Crimes Act (VA Code 18.2-152.1 – 18.2-152.15) defines criminal acts specific to computers and networks.

Now let’s look at safety.  Whose network are you connected to?  By connecting to that network, what privileges have you just given them for your own device? Can that person monitor what you are doing, steal data from, or even take control of your device?

Often hackers will map out towns and neighborhoods to find every open wireless network. This is referred to as war driving.  It may be done with the simple intent of finding where to get free internet, or may be for some nefarious reason, such as identity theft.

A criminal can easily take advantage of an open network to distribute child pornography, gain access to your personal information, or create attacks on other computers or networks.  Terrorists can use open networks as access points to inflict damages through cyber-terrorism.

For many people with a new home wireless network, getting onto the Internet as fast as possible is the main goal.  By accepting default settings and leaving the network open, he or she are not only inviting others to use the network at will, but also opens the door fraud, abuse, and even cyber-terrorism.

By taking steps, like those listed below, to secure your home wireless network you are taking steps to protect not only yourself, but your friends, neighbors, country, and way of life.  Each of the steps will provide a measure of security or anonymity to protect your wireless network.  Beware when following “rules” to secure your network from websites.  Often these can be misleading and give a false sense of security. The more layers of security you use, the less chance of you being affected by cybercrime.

Wireless routers offer a number of security features. It's important to read and under the operating manual before connecting your device before activation.

  • Read The Manual.  The first step to wireless security is to learn the features offered by the router you choose.  Most routers are similar, but each has different features in different locations.
  • Change Default Administrator Passwords.  Every wireless router comes with a default username and password.  These can all be found on various websites across the Internet.  Hackers like the easy route first, so they will often try the defaults first when attempting to break into your network.
  • Turn On Encryption.  All wireless routers come with built in data encryption.  Most routers are compatible with WEP, WPA, and WPA2 encryption.  Although WEP is better than nothing, it is weak and easily broken. Try to use WPA2 or better to secure your network.
  • Change Default SSID.  The SSID is your network name. Most routers will come with a default name such as Linksys.  If a criminal see’s Linksys he or she will know what make your router is, and can then look for default usernames and passwords for Linksys routers to gain access to your network.  He or she may also already have steps to break past security on a specific router.
  • Use Non-Obvious Network Name.  Avoid using your name, address, or combinations to name your network.  When you use Smith Network or 1225 Main Street you are identifying to criminals who a network belongs to or where it is located.
  • Turn On Mac Address Filtering.  Every network device (wireless card, network card, router, etc) has a Mac address.  This is a number similar to 08:R4:J9:23:6M:B7 which identifies your network device.  Mac filtering will allow only the Mac addresses logged in the router to access the network.  This will help to thwart attackers.
  • Turn Off Broadcasting SSID.  A wireless router sends out a radio signal to tell everyone it is there using the wireless network name.  If the network name is not being broadcasted it is more difficult for a criminal to identify and attack your network.  In essence this will make you relatively invisible to most outsiders.
  • Assign And Filter IP Addresses For Devices.  Network attached devices are assigned an IP address by Internet Service Providers or personal routers.  This is a number, similar to 192.168.0.1, that points directly to you the same way your home address does. Your cable modem will be assigned an external IP address by the ISP.  Your router will then assign internal IP addresses for each device that connects with it. Usually it does this automatically (DHCP) and the device may change the IP addresses each time it connects.  By setting static (non-changing) IP addresses for each device, it will allow the router to further filter “who” is allowed access to use the network.  Filtering of IP addresses is not a feature on all routers.
  • Upgrade Firmware.  Keep your router’s firmware upgraded as often as possible.  Firmware upgrades will fix bugs, close vulnerabilities, and often give new features and security.
  • Update Operating System. Whether using Windows, Mac, or Linux keep the operating system up-to-date. This patches holes in security that allows people to exploit your computer.
  • Disable Remote Administration.  Many routers allow access remotely via the Internet.  By disabling this feature, it will only allow a computer from within the network to access the router and make changes.
  • Use Firewalls.  Enable firewalls on any computers attached to your network and on your router if it has any.  Firewalls will help keep outsiders from intruding into your systems even if they are able to access your network.
  • Use Anti-Virus. Ensure that your computer has an anti-virus program installed and running, that you keep it updated, and regularly scan your hard drives.
  • Position Routers in a Safe Location. By placing your router near the center of your residence you will get better coverage for your home and less signal spilling outside of your residence.
  • Reduce the Signal Range.  Some routers allow you to set the signal strength of the routers wireless signal. If so, try to limit the router to only extend coverage to within your residence or as close to as possible.  This will keep someone from sitting in a car on the street using your Internet.
  • Turn Routers Off.  If you are going to be away from home for extended periods of time, turn your router off. This will ensure no outside access while you are gone.  If you have a cable modem that also has your home phone included, check the user manual; you may be able to turn off everything except the phone.
  • Sharing. Be careful with sharing settings on the router or individual computers.  It is best to share only what you must, and only with specific people.  When setting sharing, try to do so by sharing only with computers within your network.  Sharing outside of the network opens you to letting vulnerabilities in

Though no single step will guarantee 100% protection, by using as many of these suggestions as possible, you will build a solid layer of protection for you, your family, and your community.

Here is one last item of advice when away from home. Turn the WiFi off on your mobile devices, or at least turn off the Auto Connect to Open Networks settings. If your phone is set to always connect to open WiFi you could inadvertently connect to a malicious computer system and you can become a victim.

The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office hopes this information will help you to understand some of the risks associated with unsecured home wireless networks and give you layered security methods to ensure a safe and enjoyable Web connected experience. Making you aware of dangers that are associated with the cyber world, and teaching you to take precautions also helps to protect you, your family, community, and county from the dangers of cybercrime.

Clarke County Sheriff’s Department Reserve Deputy Rob Spitler has been in law enforcement since 1990 and beforehand served in the US Air Force. He has also served the James City County Police Department and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office. Rob has worked patrol, narcotics investigation, major crimes, and computer crimes and has served as a supervisor, field trainer, and instructor. When not protecting the citizens of Clarke County Rob is a forensics team lead at the Defense Cyber Crime Center in Maryland.

Comments

  1. Clarke Co Anne says:

    Good information!
    Not aware Clarke has such resourses.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Anyone with a kindle fire can find out in seconds what is being broadcast around them, and also find out if you have security on your network.
    Put encryption on your wireless devices and if you can select the line that has “TKIP” in it, it is the strongest possible encryption.
    Remember that you will have to set the same on your other devices.

  3. Also, most wireless routers have a “mac address” security option. Look around on your router for the DHCP leases. Go turn on everything you pwn that connects to your router. The lease page will have a list of device names, ip addresses and mac addresses. Copy the numbers that look like 45:34:ef:a0;12;bb into notepad.
    Then find under security on your router mac address filter. There will be options for allowing only these or denying all others. This way even if I know your password, I cant use my iphone to access your network.

  4. Excellent article!

    Perfect for home users. It is amazing how there are many open wireless routers in the wild. I think changing the Default SSID and DEFINITELY the default administrator password are two of the main things. MAC address filtering is one of the safest. You might want to write a post on how to find this for your readers. I think I may on my site as well.

    Thanks for a great read!
    Scott