I continue to be amazed by the gap that exists between those who live technology and typical everyday users. Wi-Fi Security is no exception to this gap. The other day I had someone ask me for help because they could no longer connect to the Drury Inn Wi-Fi network from their house and thought it was a problem with their computer.
Confused by this question, I said “But you don’t live by the Drury Inn!?” That comment frustrated my friend who replied “I know! What difference does that make, it was free Wi-Fi and I need it back!”
That got me thinking. How many other people don’t know how to use Wi-Fi? And by use Wi-Fi, I mean use it securely. Sure, pretty much everyone knows how to connect to the internet, especially when it’s free, but do they know the essentials of staying safe as well?
I decided to educate my friend about the topic…
How Wi-Fi Works
Wi-Fi uses radio waves, the same technology a remote uses to send a signal to your car to unlock the doors, only instead of a signal, it’s a long conversation. With Wi-Fi, your computer talks in a way that can be overheard by others listening in. Think of WiFi as a postcard, going through the mail. Even though the person you sent the message to will receive it, there’s no telling how many people read your postcard on the way. Not only that, but the reply message is on a postcard too so someone listening in can hear the whole conversation. We can think about securing this conversation by putting our messages in sealed envelopes rather than using postcards.
…it’s free Wi-Fi and I need it back!
Wi-Fi security depends on password to connect to the network and are the core of your wireless security. The password scrambles (scramble = encrypt) the communication so that it doesn’t make sense to another computer. Sure it’s more convenient if you don’t have a password set on your home network, but we’re trying to make sure you’re sending letters, not postcards.
You may think passwords aren’t really necessary, especially at home, but keep in mind your Wi-Fi signal doesn’t stop at your walls and in some cases it can reach your neighbors house or even farther down the street. Dense areas, like apartments or condos make using a password critically important because there’s a higher risk that someone could connect to your Wi-Fi from the unit next door and you wouldn’t know it. Once someone connects to your Wi-Fi, not only could they listen in on the data your computer is sending, but they can also snoop around and try to look for things on your network like files on your computers.
When you set your wi-fi password, you also need to make sure it’s using a setting called WPA2 Personal (WPA2-PSK) or WPA if WPA2 isn’t an option. The manual that came with your Wi-Fi router should have instructions on setting a wireless password. If you don’t have the manual, visit the manufacturers website and search for the model. You should be able to download a copy of the manual from there.
When choosing a Wi-Fi password make sure you pick one that is strong. If you aren’t sure what a strong password is, watch our video about passwords to learn more about choosing one that’s strong. Choosing a Strong Password. In short, make sure the password is relatively long and hard to guess. A quick example would be to not use your home address or name as the password.
Secure Wi-Fi is encrypted, but that still doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe. If you are connected to public Wi-Fi, like Starbucks or a hotel, every other computer that’s connected can listen in. This is true even if you have to use a password to connect to the network. Think of this connection like a postcard that’s inside an envelope, only the envelope isn’t sealed. Someone just looking at the envelope can’t tell what’s inside, but someone else who knows the password (just like you do) can look inside the envelope easily.
Although public Wi-Fi is convenient, it’s best to avoid sharing any personal information while connected. It’s also critical that you don’t login to your bank or other financial institution. Remember, anyone and everyone could be listening in.
Not logging into websites on public Wi-Fi is ideal, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. When you must do this, make sure the website browser says https:// which means your connection to that specific website should be encrypted. For a super secure connection, no matter where you are, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). VPN’s usually have a cost, but it’s wise to look into getting one and ensure you stay safe. Personally, I use VyprVPN.
Finally, if you notice an internet connection that shouldn’t be there, or just seems sketchy don’t use it! Sometimes hackers will setup fake Wi-Fi that looks like it’s legitimate but it’s not! They do this so they can listen in and see if there’s any information they can use. Remember the old adage that if it’s too good to be true it probably is. Remember not to use insecure and open Wi-Fi in your neighborhood, or anywhere for that matter, just because it’s there.
Wi-Fi Security Conclusion
In security there are no guarantees. The best approach to staying safe is to be cautious, use different layers of protection and understand how hackers think. The more layers of security you have in place the better. The more you know on how to be safe the better as well. Here’s a quick recap covering the three Wi-Fi Security things you should never do:
- Never use a Wi-Fi connection without a password
- Don’t do something you wouldn’t want others to overhear on public Wi-Fi
- Never connect to Wi-Fi that seems out of place
Keeping these points in mind should help you have safe Wi-Fi experience.