wifi_logoIf you have more than one computer in your home, you have a network. If any computers — or tablets, or smartphones — connect to the Internet using a wireless signal, you have a WiFi network. Most users don’t think about it: wireless routers have become common over the past few years and are often supplied by Internet service providers (ISPs) as part of a broadband service contract. If you’re running a wireless network, you may wonder how to secure WiFi in your home. Is it difficult? Time-consuming? Can it really protect your network from unwanted intrusion? In fact, you can increase wireless security in four simple steps. Here’s how:

Step 1: Find the Router’s IP Address

This sounds technical, but it really isn’t. Every wireless router manufacturer uses a slightly different IP address as the router’s “home” page, and to change any security settings you need to find this IP.

On a Windows computer:

  1. Click “Start,” and in the search box type “cmd”. This will bring up a black and white “command prompt” box.
  2. Type in “ipconfig /all”, and you’ll get a few pages of text and numbers.
  3. Look for a line that says “gateway” or “default gateway” and record the IP address.

On a Mac:

  1. Open the Finder, head to Applications, open Utilities, and run the “Terminal” program.
  2. Type “ipconfig -a”, and you’ll get a similar block of text.
  3. As with a Windows machine, look for the “gateway” line. In both cases, the IP address will be similar to, with slight variations in the last digit.

Step 2: Access Your Router’s Control Panel

Once you have the gateway IP, enter it into your Internet browser. This will take you to your router’s administrator access page, where you’ll be prompted to log in with a username and password. Most routers use “admin” as their default username, and many don’t require a password, but consult the documentation that came with your router to be sure. Once you’ve accessed the router’s admin menu, make sure to change the password to something other than the default. In addition, change the Service Set Identifier (SSID) of your router. This is effectively its “name” and what you’ll see when you go searching for wireless networks in your area. Default names usually include the make and model number of the router and are a red flag to hackers that your network hasn’t been properly set up. Change the name to something you recognize.

Step 3: Encrypt Your Network

Free-for-all WiFi networks are easy to use but present serious security risks, according to the FBI. If you leave your home network insecure, any passerby can latch on and access your Internet connection or eavesdrop on email, Facebook, or instant messaging (IM) conversations. To encrypt your access point, navigate to the security section of your router’s admin page and turn on WiFi Protected Access 2 (WPA2). This is the strongest form of encryption currently available for home networks and replaces older versions like WPA and WEP. Turning on WPA2 effectively encrypts traffic on your network, meaning any snoopers won’t be able to listen in and capture your personal data.

Step 4: Filter MACs and Turn on the Firewall

Finally, make sure to enable the wireless router’s firewall settings to protect you from inadvertently downloading infected files, and create a list of approved media access control (MAC) addresses. These addresses are unique to every wireless device and can be easily found by connecting to your network. When you connect any device in your home, the router’s admin panel should show you information about the MAC address. Collect the MAC address from all devices you use. Then use the router’s MAC filter to enter those addresses as approved.

If you use wireless internet, you need to know how to secure WiFi networks. Follow these steps, and you’ll limit the chance of a home network breach.

Photo credit: Flickr