How to protect your Wi-Fi network from snoopers...including Google

Stop break-ins and privacy-invaders. If you had done all this, you would have been safe from Street View snooping.


A lawsuit against Google for snooping on Wi-Fi networks is moving forward, and it should raise this question for you: Just how safe is your own network against snoopers? If you've got a small wireless network you use for business or home, here's how you can protect yourself against break-ins and snoopers.

The suit against Google concerns the data collection Google did for Street View, in which it not only photographed streets and houses, but also snatched passwords, e-mail, and other personal information from home Wi-Fi networks. (Google no longer does that.) Here are some simple steps you can take, and tools to use, to help protect your work or home wireless network -- and that would have protected you against Google's WiFi snooping.

Properly encrypt your network

Start with the basics, of course: Encrypt your network. You'd be surprised how many people simply don't do that. Make sure that you use the strongest encryption possible. So avoid WEP and opt for WPA -- and use WPA2 rather than WPA. If you use even stronger encryption, make sure that all the devices that need to access your network can use it.

Change the default administrator password

Also, make sure to change your default administrator password and user name. Most people don't do this. If you don't, it's an invitation for someone to take control of your wireless network, because the default administrator user names and passwords of routers are well-known and can be used by anyone. You typically change your password on the login screen.

Disable SSID Broadcasting

Your service set identifier (SSID) is your network's name. If people know the name, and see it in plain sight, it'll be easier for them to break into it. Your router broadcasts its SSID, and that broadcast tells passersby there's a network there. It also gives out the name, which makes it easier to connect to.

Turning off SSID broadcasting can go a long way toward keeping casual users from seeing your network. Doing that, by itself, won't necessarily solve the problem. Even if you stop broadcasting your network's name, people might still be able to connect to your network if you use its default name. Manufacturers generally ship their wireless routers with the same generic SSID; for example, Linksys routers typically have the SSID "Linksys" by default. So, even if you stop broadcasting your SSID, intruders can easily guess your router's name and log on.

So you should first change your SSID's name, and then hide it. That way, passersby won't see it, and they won't be able to guess it, either. How you do this varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and even from model to model from the same manufacturer. But for many models of Linksys routers, here's what to do.

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