You're paying for fast home Internet access from a reliable Internet service provider (ISP), and you don't want to share that access with anyone who happens to be nearby. That means that you have to use a secure wireless network. But it's not as tough as it seems to create a secure network.
Why Is It Important to Secure Your Network?
It's easy to convince yourself that you don't need to worry about securing your network. Maybe you don't think there's anyone around, or you don't care that much if your neighbors can get on your WiFi.
But there's more than just sharing with the person next door that can happen if you don't secure your network. Others can jump on to an unsecured network and use it to download gigantic files, or files that violate copyright protections. This means your network -- when you want to use it -- will be slow as molasses. Plus, you could be held liable if the illegal download of copyrighted material is traced back to you.
It's also possible for others to use your network to send out spam messages, which can bog down your service, hamper your ISP's ability to send out legitimate e-mail messages, and possibly get your service turned off completely.
Finally, unscrupulous people can access your unsecured network with the aim of stealing passwords or other private information.
How Can You Secure Your Wireless Network?
The Federal Communications Commission lists step-by-step instructions for how to protect a simple network.
In addition, the manufacturer of your wireless router will include a manual with instructions on securing the router from unauthorized access. Your ISP can also serve as a resource if you have questions or problems—after all, they also have a stake in making sure your network usage is legitimate.
You'll need to both turn on encryption, which will require choosing a password or phrase for accessing the network, and change the default password that comes with the router and allows you to change settings. Many people use simple passwords that can easily be cracked or guessed. Make sure you are choosing a different password for accessing the network and for changing the router settings; these passwords should include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols that don't spell a common dictionary word in order to keep them from being cracked.
What Other Things Can You Do to Keep Your WiFi Secure?
You can make sure that your wireless network doesn't show up publicly, even if you have it encrypted. When others can't even see your network, they will have a harder time breaking in.
You should also turn off your wireless router if you are going to be out of town for more than a day or two. This keeps others from accessing your WiFi when you're not around to detect it.
It's also a good idea to keep anti-virus and security software on your networked computers so that they are not vulnerable to anyone who manages to gain access.
If you have additional questions about securing your wireless network or about getting online, contact your Internet service provider.