Regardless of the method used to connect to the internet, if you use a wireless router or access point, IT NEEDS A PASSWORD–and it needs to NOT be set as “password.”
If you use U-VERSE from AT&T, the password is on the bottom of the device, and it’s a good password. I don’t know how much configuration you can do on those devices, but from what I understand, they’ve got pretty good security on them.
If you are using your own wireless router and had your favorite geek set it up for you, find out what the password is and see if it meets the security criteria I outlined here.
Another thing you want to make sure of is that your wireless router cannot be administered wirelessly. You want to require that whoever is working on the router configuration has to use a network cable. The purpose of that is to make sure that someone working on the configuration is someone you WANT working on it, not someone hacking in from the outside. That requirement is a setting in the router’s configuration program.
There are a couple of other things that can be done if you want to make sure that only your selected people and devices can connect to your wireless network: you can disable SSID broadcasting, and you can enable MAC address filtering.
SSID broadcast is what enables you to see the name of the network or router, select it, and connect to it without typing in any information other than the password. If you don’t see the name of the network, you would have to tell your device the name of the network, what kind of security is enabled on the network, and the password. The effectiveness of disabling that broadcast is not universally accepted. Unless you’re trying to hide the fact that you HAVE a wireless network, don’t bother disabling broadcast; use the other security steps outlined here.
Remember the post about the World Wide Web, how it talked about IP addresses? Well, any device that has network capability has a MAC address. MAC stands for Media Access Control. It’s not entirely picky-accurate to say that your computer has a MAC address, because the address is not unique to the computer. It’s unique to each component in the computer that accesses or can access a network. So your ethernet card has one MAC address, your wireless adapter has a different MAC address, and if you have an aircard, it has its own MAC address. If you open a command prompt in windows (used to be called a DOS prompt) and type ipconfig /all, OR if you open up Network Utility on your Mac, OR if you open up a terminal and type in ifconfig, you can find the MAC addresses of every network adapter in your computer. It looks something like this: 8A-34-0B-23-5C-98. This is just a number I made up to give an example, it probably does belong to something somewhere in the world. But you should see at least one number for your wireless adapter and one for your ethernet adapter. If you have an internet-enabled phone, it has a MAC address, but if it doesn’t connect to the internet it does not.
MAC address filtering only allows certain devices to connect to the network. In the bowels of the configuration for your wireless router is a section that will allow you to specify the MAC addresses of the devices you will allow to connect to your network. If you have pesky neighbors who keep figuring out your passwords, this would be something you could use to thwart that, but other than that, there are really very few reasons to implement such draconian measures, and one really good reason to not do so: You will forget that you’ve done it when you bring home a new device and try to connect it to your network. You’ll put the password in a hundred times and still not get a connection until someone goes into that bowel-area and adds that device to the allowed devices list, or disables MAC address filtering.
How serious you need to get about your wireless security depends on a lot of factors, but for general use, a good strong password on your router and some common sense about watching where you surf will keep you reasonably safe. Remember–the only way to stay completely safe on the web is to stay off the web. This offers a fair alternative.