Sunday, December 14, 2008

I got a new wireless router, can you explain the security settings?

OK, networking is pretty complicated, especially if your new to the world of computers. Most wireless routers today have wizards that help you configure them, and ensure they are secure. Use the wizard if you can, but make sure the settings you pick are secure also.

Most routers support the following security:

1. No security, or Open.

This is worst, and you should never leave a router in this setting. It means that anyone that is passing by can hijack your wireless signal and surf the web on your connection. Worst still, if your computer is connected and turned on, they can attempt to hack it.

2. Wired Equivalent Privacy or WEP security

This was the original attempt to make wireless as secure as a wired connect (as the name implies). But it was a pretty failed attempt. If you use WEP security, a hacker can gain access to your network in a matter of minutes or seconds, if your actively using the connection. This will only keep out non-hackers.

3. WiFi Protected Access or WPA

This was a pre-standard security measure to help with the problem created by WEP, don't use it if you don't have to.

4. WiFi Protected Access-2 or WPA-2

This is the new standard, and should be used. When using WPA or WPA-2, you can choose to use AES encryption or TKIP encryption. In 2008, a vulnerability in TKIP was discovered, so you should stick with AES if given a choice.

Most home networks employ a Preshared Key for the security. A preshared key is just a password that the router and your computer both know. If you use a short password, or just a word, it's easy for a hacker to figure out. If you use random letters, numbers and punctuation, it's hard for a hacker, but also not easy for you to remember. You can be safe by using a password that is easy to remember, but hard for a hacker to guess. Here's how I do it:

Make up a sentence about something easy for you to remember, like this:

I went to Disney World in 2008 for my daughters birthday!

Use the first letter of each word, and keep the numbers and punctuation, so it looks like this:

Iwtdwi2008fmdb!

Super Password, and it will take ages for a hacker to guess!!

One last note on wireless security, most routers have a setting that says:
"Broadcast SSID:" and it's almost always set to Yes. Turn it off! You don't need everyone to know your SSID. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, change your SSID from the default, to something else. All Linksys routers have an SSID of Linksys, change it to Theyakityyaks :) or some clever name that you can think of.

My daughter got a computer for Christmas, how can I keep her safe?

Wow, this is a good question. My own daughter surfs the web every day, she's 10. I worry that she may not know what info she can give out, and what should be kept secret. Let's start with what I told her:

1. First name ONLY!!!

If someone wants your last name, and they won't leave you alone you need to tell me! I made sure she understands this one. There are many people with the same first name, but when you add the last name, the field just got a lot narrower. This is what Predators want, an advantage!

2. Don't give out the name of our town!

If you tell them the name of your town, how many Mary Roberts live there, not many unless you live in New York city. So now they now the name of your town, so what, they don't know my last name. Keep reading, you'll see why these details are important.

3. School name or mascot!

Tell them you like soccer, tell them you like singing, what ever it is you like. Just don't tell them where you like doing it. By saying I play baseball for the Pine Bush Bushmen, you just told them where you live, and narrowed down the town.

4. Obviously, telephone numbers and address!

I don't think you need this one explained, but your kids DO!! Make sure they know this, and even if it's someone they think they know. Just because someone online says, hi this is Jimmy from school. It doesn't mean it's Jimmy from school!

How can this all work together, to give a predetor access to your kids? Let's see a made up chat:

DaPredator: Hi, this is jimmy, how are you?
TheKidIWantSafe: good, do I know you?
DaPredator: Yes, we go to school together.
TheKidIWantSafe: oh, is this Jimmy Smith
DaPredator: yes
DaPredator: This is sara, right?
TheKidIWantSafe: no, this is Mary, how'd you get my id
DaPredator: from your friend
TheKidIWantSafe: which one
DaPredator: she told me not to tell
TheKidIWantSafe: oh how come
DaPredator: I don't know, she said you would get mad.
TheKidIWantSafe: ok
DaPredator: do you like school
TheKidIWantSafe: no, not really
DaPredator: me either, I like to play soccer though
TheKidIWantSafe: I used to
DaPredator: what do you like
TheKidIWantSafe: I like to play the drums
DaPredator: like in the school band
TheKidIWantSafe: yes
DaPredator: what is that called again
TheKidIWantSafe: the banging Badgers
DaPredator: oh cool
DaPredator: are you from here?
TheKidIWantSafe: no, from Texas
TheKidIWantSafe: moved to NC a few years ago.

So, let's look at that chat. Just in that little chat, we learned that her name is Mary, she lives in North Carolina, she plays in the school band and the school mascot is a Badger. A quick search could find this school, and then more research would help us get more background to use to talk to this person to make them think we really live here.

Please, be safe and talk to your kids about the dangers of online predators!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How do I share an Internet connection at home?

If you have a broadband Internet connection with one computer connected to it, you may eventually need to share that connection with other devices.

For example, in my house we have the following:
Mom's Computer
Dad's laptop
Daughters Laptop
Xbox 360
WII Wireless
Vonage Internet Phone

When your Internet service provider gives you a network connection, it only has a place to plug one thing in, usually a PC. So this is what you need to do:

Buy a router with a built in switch. If you want wireless Internet for a Laptop or Wii or other wireless device, make sure it has wireless capability also. Make sure there are enough ports for everything that you have, and anything you think you may want to buy in the next 1 - 2 years.

A router has one port that is labeled either Port 0 or Internet. This port connects to the Internet modem that your Service Provider installed. The other ports are usually labeled 1 - 4 or 1 - 8 depending on the number of ports.

You should already have a cable for each device, but if you don't just buy an Cat-5 (Category 5) or higher cable for each device that needs an Internet connection. The exception here is if you want to use wireless (Laptop, Wii, or other device that has a Wireless card.)

The next step is to plug the Cat-5 cable into the network card on the device and then into one of the ports on the router. The default configuration of the router should have you up and running, unless you have a DSL modem that requires you to log into the network. If that is the case, you need to follow the directions that came with the router to configure that, since every router will be different.

If I missed anything here, please send me an email or comment so that I can correct it, or if you need further help.

Need help with your network?

I am Microsoft certified, Cisco Certified, Comptia Certified and Other certified :).

I answer questions on Yahoo answers with over a 50% Best Answer rate, and I like to be active in the community (online and offline). If you need help with a network issue, feel free to blog me the question, and I will answer it to the best of my ability, or point you to a resource that can.

Over the next few days, I will be posting the most common questions with my answers (FAQ) here.

Dan