Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wireless Networking for Home Users

In this day in age there are many different makes and types of wireless routers, repeaters, bridges and other network devices. With the growing demand for wireless connection in the home, these network devices are becoming more common in everyday life. With that being said, the need to know how to configure and secure these devices is also important. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or network engineer to make this happen but a basic understanding of how and where to place wireless access points will improve your home wireless network.

            Recognizing terms you might hear in regards to home wireless devices and wireless in general will help you understand what you are buying. There are limitless resources on the internet that will help you discover and apply the best devices for your home situation.  In wireless home networks the most common standard used is WiFi (Wireless fidelity) or 802.11. There are many different varieties of this standard such as 802.11g or 802.11n. For more information on this you can got to . The strongest and latest version of this is 802.11n. You can get home routers using this standard for a reasonable price at any local electronics store. Some common vendors are Linksys, D-Link, and Netgear. These have plug and play default configuration but you may want to add some sort of security or authentication for your wireless connections.

            Placing your wireless access points in the right places is important.  In my experience, people only have one router to cover their entire home and place it under their desk next to their computer.  Remember that that device is sending out a WiFi signal. If it is under your desk next to something metal, it will more than likely perform as well as it should. Having one router for your entire home may work just fine. Just make sure that it is in a central location and not on the floor. Metal objects, walls, and floors will interfere with your router's wireless signals. The closer your router is to these obstructions, the more severe the interference, and the weaker your connection will be.

            Reducing wireless interference is another way to improve the range and strength of you WiFi connections. 802.11g (commonly know as Wireless-G) works on the 2.4GHz frequency. You might recognize this from 2.4GHz cordless phones that might be in your home. There are number of other home wireless technologies that use that frequency such as microwave ovens, garage door openers, baby monitors and so on. Avoiding these types of electronics is one way to reduce this interference. 802.11n (Wireless-N) works on both 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz frequencies and will be able to avoid anything on 2.4GHz and might be a better solution.

            Changing the channel your router is broadcasting on can improve connection strength and availabilities. This is similar to how you change stations on your AM/FM radio. The three common channels wireless routers work on are 1, 6, and 11.  You can change these channels on your routers configuration page under the wireless tab. Try each channel to see which one gives you the best signal. This will not require you to make any changes on you computer or wireless devices connecting to the router.

If you feel brave enough, you can upgrade the firmware of your wireless device. There are vendor firmware updates that you should be able to access from the router configuration page and download automatically. If you are feeling really brave you can use custom firmware such as DD-WRT. These custom firmware releases have a more robust feature set and can really unlock your routers potential.  This is a risky thing to do if you don’t know what you are doing and is not for the faint of heart. If this is something you are wanting to try, do the research and make sure you back up your working configuration. Once again this can open many options for how you setup and improve your home network.

If you live in a really big house it gets difficult to get one wireless signal to cover the whole house. In this case you will need to place additional access points in your home. You will need to place this access point so it can see your main network. It will then need to be configured so it will pick that network up and retransmit it. This gives you an extended range of your network and covers your entire home. If you are going to do it this way it’s a good idea to get the same vendor for all of your devices. This makes the interfaces streamline and easier to manage. Placing the access point in a hallway up high will expand the range and strength of the signal.

Fine tuning and experimenting with router position and router software features is a free easy way to get the best out of your home network. In review, choosing channels and utilizing the correct 802.11 standard will help optimize your data traffic over the airwaves. Positioning of your router and access points has a great deal to do with how and where your WiFi will be accessible, keeping your firmware updated will help fix bugs and add features to the function of your router, and reducing wireless interference in your home makes for a happy connection.   Remember to keep your wireless network encrypted and secure. Safe Surfing!

Brett Wutzke, CCNA

Beware of Social Engineering

So, your computer is running slow, it won’t get online anymore but nothing has changed on your network. You start getting weird emails and your entire contact list is sending you hate mail asking you to stop spamming them with junk. Sounds like your system got sick. There are a lot more dangers out there then just Viruses and Worms that everyday users need to be aware of such as Malware, Spyware, and social engineering to get your personal identifiable information. Email is the number one way to get exposed to these dangers.

One of the most used methods of getting your info is social engineering. This can happen in many different ways. Email happens to be the number one method. This is not only used to try to trick you into sending out that personal information such as your home address, bank account numbers, social security numbers, usernames, passwords (and so on), but can also infect your computer with any number of malicious software. The number one rule of thumb is DON’T OPEN EMAIL YOU DON’T TRUST!  This can be hard to determine. Spam filters are getting better and better but so are the spammers. There are things you can see that hint towards SPAM. If it is an email from any of your service providers, there will never be a request for you to send out your user names or passwords as they manage that information. If it is from your Bank, they will never ask for account numbers. One that I have seen a lot is from a service provider asking for information and not leaving a support number or contact method other than reply. THIS IS SPAM! Every legit service provider I have worked for will always leaves a support telephone number AND support email address to reply to when an email is sent out. Keep an eye out for thing that makes you suspicious, and then delete that email.

Another email trap is links attached to your emails. Again there those emails from banks and service providers that say, “We need you to verify your account. Please click on the link below.” This can be a tricky one. Once again, any respectable business will send a support telephone number and email address to respond to. If there is not any of that on the email don’t click on the link. These links can install malicious software that can take over your computer with out you knowing about it. This software can include your computer into a BOTNET. A botnet is kind of like a brain bug that will give its owner control over you computer to make you look like the bad guy. This is used mostly for spamming. Your virus software and email provider should scan every piece of mail you receive but sometimes these emails get through. 

Be careful with who and where you leave your email address. People will sell it and trade it for spamming. Even leaving your email address on a application for contests or registration for some website can invite piles of junk and spam. One thing I have done myself is setup 2 email addresses. One email address is for legit emails and personal communication. The second email address is for potential junk and commercial use such as registering for commercial things or contests. I check it once or twice a week and delete everything when I am done. Keep your system clean and safe surfing!

By Brett Wutzke, CCNA

Network Security

Network security is something that everyone hears about but really has no clue what it is. At first you think it is only meant for businesses and larger cooperation’s. But this type of thing should be as common as locking your front door when you leave your home. 

The more we have personal information anywhere on our computers the more likely you are to be subject to theft of this information.  Locking down you home network and home computers is an easy and effective way to prevent this type of theft and attack. There are many easy and free ways to make this happen.  Here are a few:

1.      Never Use Default Settings:

When you setup your home network this day in age there will more than likely be a wireless or “WiFi’ device in the mix. This could be a Router or and Access Point. In almost all of these devices, it is setup to just work. Plug it in and go. No type of authentication or security check points such as a username or password. This is one of the major causes of network breaches. If you can just log in and go, that means everyone else can too. If that person knows what he is doing he can cause a lot of damage and heartache. 

Always set a different username and password for your network devices configuration and always setup some type of encryption on your wireless networks. Even though all of these methods are not foolproof, it adds another layer of protection against attacks and theft. WPA/WPA2, WEP, and TKIP are types of encryption that you can set on most wireless routers.

2.      Never Give Out Your Passwords

This is an important one. Never ever give this information out. That’s like giving a stranger the keys to your house and saying “take anything you want”.  They are secret for a reason.  You should also make sure that you are changing your password often. Password can be easy to. Making sure you passwords are at least 8-12 characters long and include numbers, letters and special characters like !, @, #, and so on will make the password harder to break. New things that some applications are using are spaces in your passwords. This will make strong passwords even harder to crack.

Hackers like to get this information using a number of different ways. Have you ever received an email from your Internet Service Provider asking for the password to your email account or gotten an email saying that you won a bunch of money and they ask you for your bank account number? These are ways of getting to the unwary. An Internet Service Provider will never ask for that information. They don’t need it. This is known as “social engineering”. Hacker will pose as anyone you might trust or are not sure of and try to get information out of you. A password is a password for a reason. Keep it to yourself.

3.      Keep Your System Updated

This is another method of keeping your network and computer safe.  I know it is a total pain and it takes time and internet but it will help. Keep your operating system up to date. Developers are always finding and fixing new vulnerabilities and backdoors into your system. These updates and patches are the end result of these finds and fixes. You should not only keep your operating system up to date but applications running on your system as well. Once again these updates make the program run better and might install new features but will also close and holes the developers might have found and made the application safer to use.

4.      Make Sure Your Virus Software is Up to Date

Virus protection should never be your only security measure although it is an important one. With that being said, this is another target that hackers are attuned to. Making sure that you have the correct and updated virus signature lists will keep you ready for the up and coming malicious code that hackers are infecting the internet with. Although there are many paid programs that provide protection there are just as many free programs that provide comparable protection. Do some research on what you feel comfortable with. Tips when looking for software is check the user comments and reviews. Let the people that use the software give you the best idea of if it works or not.

So, these are some of the basics. It won’t make your home network an impenetrable force, but it will make the everyday hacker moving on to the next network that isn’t as secure. Again in review: never give your password out, never use default settings on anything, use difficult passwords with numbers, letters and special characters (such as ! @ # $), and make sure your system OS and virus protection is up to date. One more thing I forgot to mention, if you don’t know much about computers or internet security, it would be in your best interest (if you have a computer on the web) to get someone to help. Most people charge for it, but just like your virus protection, there are people out there that will be more than willing to give you the information and help needed to get secure. Till next time, keep safe and keep surfing!